The best way to tell someone that they smell



Don’t take this the wrong way, but you smell and I’d like you to do something about it.

How’d that make you feel? Not too good we’re guessing.

If you’ve said something like that before, congratulations. You just broke every single rule in the book.

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While you may have gotten straight to the point with clarity, you’ve been mighty unhelpful and your abrasive delivery only made the problem worse.

Having a smelly colleague, friend or family member can be a dreadful experience and telling them how you feel is probably even more unsettling. However, attempting to live with it isn’t the answer.

So how do you deliver the bad news with empathy and tact?

According to the experts, one of the best ways to tell someone they have bad body odour is by choosing a messenger who will do the job thoughtfully and carefully.

“If you’re a person who knows that you’re not good at doing this, do not try it,” psychologist and author Meredith Fuller tells The New Daily.

“Know your boundaries and your limits … if you’re frightened and clumsy, you’ll mess it up.”

Ms Fuller says if someone who is harsh, not confident or evasive breaks the news, the message will come across wrong and you risk causing offence.


Cigarettes leave a nasty smell on people but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell them nicely. Photo: Getty

“Having emotional intelligence is so handy when you have to deal with people in this way,” Ms Fuller explains.

It may seem daunting, but the problem needs to be tackled head on, no beating around the bush.

“Be careful not to be too politically correct or so worried about projecting onto the other person what we might feel or how we might be embarrassed – often no one has ever told them these things and they probably need to hear it,” Ms Fuller says.

Similarly, psychologist Eve Ash accepts such problems are serious.

In Smart Company she writes: “We often don’t address this issue properly – but it really does matter.

“Bad smells are one of the strongest taboos in the workplace.”

It’s also crucial you don’t underestimate the impact the proper approach will have.

“If you do it in a way that’s helping them, respecting them and valuing them and you’re just saying it conversationally, they should react pleasantly,” Ms Fuller says.

“Often people will think it is great that you’ve let them know … sometimes people just like to know.”

But above all, she says, “never attack the person”.

“Remember you’re concerned about a behaviour or a problem that you’d like a win-win solution for.

“You don’t go up to someone and say ‘You’ve got stinky body odour and you’re just a stinky person’.”

Based on what the experts say, here’s the definitive way to tell someone that they smell.

DO: “Hey, you probably aren’t aware of this but I’ve noticed you’ve had a bit of body odour recently and I wanted to tell you so you could fix it. I hope you don’t mind me interfering and I hope you’d feel comfortable doing the same for me.”

DON’T: “You smell really bad and a few people have noticed. Fix it, it’s distracting.”

The five-step guide

1. Ask someone close to them if the individual is aware of the problem. The answer should inform your approach.

2. Consult a colleague/family member and ask – is it just me who is annoyed by this?

3. Consider opening up to them about a problem of your own during the conversation.

4. Plan and rehearse – don’t use offensive language, don’t attack and do it in private.

5. Ask for their feedback, offer them help and express gratitude for them letting you discuss it. It must be a conversation.

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