Your Coworker Stinks! How to handle sensitive issues like personal hygiene

It’s not exactly the most pleasant thing in the world, having a difficult conversation with a coworker, but some things must be said for the sake of the work environment. After all, work is where you likely spend about 40 hours (or more) of your week. What’s worse than confronting a difficult or awkward situation is not confronting it and letting it… shall we say, “fester”. No one wants that!

We’ll use the example of hygiene issues at work. This type of thing can make working in close quarters a very tedious and even stressful situation. Maybe they are painfully unaware of the social standards of hygiene, perhaps they can’t help it due to medical reasons, or maybe they can’t smell themselves. Taking into consideration the fact that it may not necessarily be their fault, the situation must still be addressed to find a suitable solution that works for everyone. You may feel that this can’t be done without looking like a jerk, but it absolutely can be. These same steps can be used for other types of difficult conversations that must be had. 

Step 1: Don’t wait to have difficult conversations at work

The longer you wait, the harder it is. Anxiety will build up, ultimately keeping you from having the conversation at all and exacerbating the problem. Get in the habit of delivering feedback and having necessary conversations regularly and address issues immediately. 

Step 2: Check your mindset

You have to be in the right place to have the conversation to begin with, and that needs to be a calm and rational place. If you are already worked up about the issue, it is not the time to have the conversation and instead you should wait until you have your wits about you. This way you can bring positive energy into the situation by approaching it positively. 

Step 3: Practice having difficult conversations at work

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages her employees to have tough conversations at least once a week. Because she believes if you do not have them, you’re not growing. Having the tough talks forces companies to bring uncomfortable issues out into the open. And it can help businesses address them, especially when it comes to critical matters like workplace diversity and pay inequality.

Step 4: Manage your emotions

Your goal is to have the conversation in an even tone and keep it professional. This technique is especially important when the meeting is with someone you work closely with. It can help if you look at things from a fact-based standpoint. When emotions start to take over, remind yourself that the more in control you are, the better you’ll be able to communicate the message.

Step 5: Be empathetic

Consider how the other person will feel during the conversation and give them time to process their emotions. Clearly explain why you’re having the meeting to help them fully understand your perspective. If you see them struggling, pause for a minute so they can gather their thoughts. If they start to get emotional, appreciate how they must be feeling and reassure them that you’re providing this feedback because you care.

Step 6: Brainstorm together

The goal of having this conversation is to come up with a solution. If it isn’t clear from the beginning, work together to brainstorm ideas. Listen to the other person’s thoughts and bring some suggestions to the table as well. Once you reach an agreement, make sure there is an action plan in place moving forward.

Tough talks can be awkward and unpleasant. But they are inevitable. The key is to approach them with honesty and empathy. By following these strategies, you’ll be able to successfully navigate difficult conversations at work while growing your potential.