I’ve just read a LI article which got me rather exercised – I think I even started shouting ‘No, no, no…’ at my screen. Here is part of the offending text:
I tried hard to make the conversation about her colleagues’ noses, not her armpits, and I tried not to be prescriptive about the solution.
And this was in the context of not making feedback personal.
Before I go on to describe how to address a personal hygiene problem, here’s what’s wrong with the above:
- Feedback is personal. If it isn’t, it has no value whatsoever.
- Trying to make the conversation about something else is dissembling and always makes things worse.
- The solution is not your business – that’s up to the person concerned.
OK, so how do you tell someone that they have a personal hygiene problem?
Firstly, you make as few assumptions as possible. You do not assume that they know, or that they don’t know. You don’t assume any cause and you certainly don’t presume any solution.
Secondly, you don’t tiptoe around the issue, drop hints or avoid it. You address it face-to-face in the knowledge that, providing you do it with compassion, how they feel about it is not your responsibility.
Thirdly, when you are talking to the other person, use I and you language. It does not concern anyone outside of the room.
Here’s one way of starting the conversation:
I notice you have a strong smell about you today – are you aware of it?
You can go on to ask if they have been feeling unwell, if their personal circumstances have changed etc. etc. You’re asking, not telling; observing, not judging.
And that’s all there is to it. Simple, not easy. But to be brutally honest, if you have management responsibility, then you really should be able to do this, if the occasion ever arises.
Oh, and one other thing – you do not refer it to HR.