Do you have something uncomfortable to tell someone? Like maybe she smells bad, or he needs to wash his hair more, or everyone can see her underwear when she bends over? Here’s how to break the news with minimal fallout — and how to decide if you should keep silent instead.
Don’t jump the gun.
Nobody really wants to be the one to tell somebody they stink, so this advice shouldn’t be too hard to follow. Still, you should remember that it’s probably not worth commenting on somebody’s attributes, greasy hair, visible underwear or the likes unless it’s causing a problem for you — or you’re pretty sure it’s starting to cause problems for them.
Wait for a pattern to emerge. Definitely don’t say anything the first, second or even third time you notice it. If it’s something little that can be fixed in the moment, go ahead and speak up. But for larger issues, it can be a good idea to hold off until you’re sure it’s an ongoing problem.
Don’t speak out of spite.
Before you say anything, you should ask yourself if you want to enrich your relationship with the other person. If the answer is no — if you don’t care about them or even want to take them down a peg — then you should probably keep quiet. People can smell fakeness, and an insincere “I’m only saying this because I care about you” isn’t going to help anyone. Nobody likes a concern-troll.
Pick a private place.
Somebody’s problem is not a topic to bring up at a board meeting or a party. You want to be sure you are alone and in a private setting, one where you know you will not be interrupted. According to Flagg,
[W]hen you do speak up, don’t EVER say that several other people have “brought it to your attention.” That’s horrifying for the individual. He or she will become so focused on who else said something and how many other people were talking about him or her, that it derails the conversation and turns it into something negative. A caveat: Sometimes a person will get crazy, especially if they report to you and they blame you for picking on them. In that case, it is sometimes necessary to say you’re not alone in your observations.
Let them respond.
When confronted with a difficult personal issue, people sometimes react with “denial, defense, or deflection.” Expect this, and stay on track — don’t let the person derail the conversation by talking about someone else’s ugly haircut or whatever. They may have a totally legit explanation — perhaps a medical problem — in which case you should hear them out. But don’t get caught up in an argument if they get defensive. Sometimes, it can be a good idea to just leave and give the person a minute to consider what you’ve said.
Put it in perspective.
Even though conversations about things like personal hygiene can be fraught, they’re not matters of national security. Don’t treat them that way. Says Flagg,
Don’t make it a big deal. It’s only as big as you make it. Be comfortable just saying the words because a sense that you’re ill-at-ease adds to the recipients discomfort as well. Keep it light.
Body odour certainly isn’t pleasant, but in the grand scheme of human problems, it could be a lot worse. Keep that in mind when approaching someone, and everything will go a lot more smoothly.