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Chinelo Okoli: How to Tell Someone they have Body or Mouth Odour

Chinelo Okoli

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Many of us humans clearly know we cannot stand another person’s body odour. I have seen several complaints by way of blog posts, social media posts complaining about this. Very recently I saw an interesting ad by a popular anti-perspirant brand, on this theme.

But one of the most difficult things I have had to do, is to tell someone else that they have body odour or mouth odour. You may be the most eloquent speaker, but you see this one conversation, it is hard. So how do you approach the subject? If the person with the mouth odour or body odour, is a one-time acquaintance like, a fellow passenger in public transport, co-attendee at a party or conference, I will advise you to endure and leave the issue alone.

This post will apply more to a friend, colleague, family member, boyfriend/girlfriend, employee, etc. with an odour problem.

Have a one-on-one Discussion
It is so easy to back bite about the person’s situation and how it is such a pain. You may even assume the person knows they smell bad, which I doubt…because who wants to stink really? The solution is to talk about the problem with the person and end your suffering.

An alternative is to talk to the person through a medium, usually someone closer to the person. Please don’t have this discussion via email. Try your best to make it face to face, or worst case scenario via phone.

Do it in Private
This is a sensitive subject and should be handled as such. The last thing you want, is to do it before an audience and utterly humiliate the person involved. Imagine being told you smell and others have to hear it as well? Disaster. Make sure you are alone with the person before you start the conversation. This also applies if the person with the body or mouth odour is your employee or domestic staff or even your child (African parents, take note). We all deserve some dignity.

Hit the Nail on the Head
Be sensitive but direct. There is no need dancing around the subject or giving clues like “oh you should try this toothpaste”, “do you care for some chewing gum”, “here, try my perfume”. I tell you, all those things are pointless, because, if the person was good at catching clues, they would probably have figured out they have body odour or mouth odour. You may start the conversation with: “there is something important and personal I would like to talk to you about. Please don’t take this the wrong way as I mean well. For some time, I have noticed you don’t smell as fresh as you ought to. Do you use a deodorant? ” etc. Also, let the person know that you feel it is best to talk to them about it instead of hearing it from somewhere else.

Offer a Solution
The last time I had this sort of conversation with a friend, I found out they do not use a deodorant. Don’t ask me why. I recommended a good deodorant brand, as well as other things he could do to solve this problem. One thing I have learnt is that we come from different backgrounds and that could inform our habits. Do not assume everyone knows they ought to brush their tongue, use a good toothpaste, use deodorant daily, visit a dentist or dermatologist, etc. As a follow-up, you could get them a gift of the item in question, because some people don’t learn.

Expect anything as an outcome
You have no way of knowing how the person will react to being told he or she has body or mouth odour. If they show appreciation, you are in luck. Expect any reaction, from rage, to tears, to getting reported to human resources for bullying, to losing that relationship. The last two are very worst case scenarios. At least you know you have tried your best. Would you rather prefer perfume or air freshener was sprayed when you walked out of a room? Or be told politely to improve the way you smell?

These are practical and tested tips from me on handling this subject. Do you have any other better ways of telling someone they have body or mouth odour?

Photo Credit: Atholpady | Dreamstime.com

Chinelo Rita Okoli is a freelance writer and content creator. She owns Parenting and Lifestyle blog www.neloshalo.com where she shares her perspective as a Modern Igbo woman living in Nigeria.

10 Comments

  1. i must talk

    April 19, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    i have loads of them in my office. can you imagine? my HRM who you expect more from has a mouth odour.. i mean a terrible one for that matter! the type that deprives one of a good day. His wife should deal with that and not me.

    • gia

      April 19, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      His wife should deal with that and not me

      LMAOOOO!

  2. Spunky

    April 19, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Except it is really( emphasis on really) necessary, leave it alone. Don’t go crushing someone’s ego even though you mean well.

    • osa

      April 19, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      But when they are crushing ur own nose and right to peaceful enjoyment of your immediate space nko?

  3. Deleke

    April 19, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Leave it bawo, make I come swell because of foul odour. Just tell them straight up, ‘boy/girl, your breath is kicking’
    What do we do about perpetual farters who just stink up the cubicle all the time???

  4. Grace

    April 19, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    I had a seat mate in my office that had a particular body smell and she used to tease a trainee of hers who had mouth and body odour like laugh at him and all while I was managing her. I bought the trainee deodorant and sprays after having a conversation with him and he got better. One day she brought it up and tried to yab him mentioning the fact that someone must have worked on him. I got so irritated and said to her ‘ well that someone did what you should have done instead of yabbing him especially when you have an offensive body smell yourself’

    • mee

      April 19, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      Very good response..I love that!

    • molarah

      April 19, 2017 at 9:18 pm

      Actually, it’s not, at least not in the long-term. I get the frustration @Grace must have been facing (having to deal with such attitude from her co-worker), but its usually better to confront people when our emotions are in an even or level place. Else it just seems like an outburst, and no one likes to be the focus of an outburst.

  5. linda

    April 19, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    tell that to the famous DJ.

    his mouth odor kills roaches.

  6. Chocolateyyyy

    April 20, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Really needed to read this! I have a work colleague in his 30s and his mouth and body odour are repulsive. Over dinner a few wks ago, someone mentioned people are talking about the fact that he smells bad but I had to refute the claim (even though its true) because I didn’t want people talking about him like that. He is such a great colleague. But his stench really upsets me. I have 2 more years to go with him as my colleague, don’t know how this will turn out but i’ll try your advice. Thanks a lot!

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