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Disgusting! How to Handle Offensive Office Hygiene

By Lydia Dishman, PayScale.com

Do you know these people? There's the guy who belches or pick his nose seated next to accounts payable. The saleswoman whose phone calls to clients/family/significant others can be heard down the hall in the break room, with the door closed. The admin who believes her cloud of perfume helps the air quality in reception.

At some point in your career you've probably been stuck in too-close quarters with a colleague like this who isn't aware how badly they're grossing out their office mates. Unfortunately, you’ll get no help if you fume silently while others surround you with their stinky behaviors. By pointing out the problem (tactfully) you'll get practice in open communication --a highly useful skill that could clear the air faster than you can say Febreze.

Career coach Traci Shoblom of Intentional Design says one of the important keys in communicating with coworkers about such sensitive issues is to consider their communication style. “If you’re not direct enough with someone who is a direct communicator, they won’t get the message. But if you’re too direct with someone who is an indirect communicator, they will see you as rude instead of being open to what you’re saying.” Shoblom advocates using the “sandwich technique” by opening the conversation with a soft idea “It's really awkward to say this...” followed by a hard fact, “when you come back from the gym after lunch...” and a soft close, “Let me know if I can help.”

Here are some other stories from the trenches:

Breakfast Belch Fest

Katherine Moore works in social media and online content marketing. Moore says one of her colleagues would frequently issue deep, guttural belches. “Some were so loud that I could hear them through the headphones,” which she wore to mask the sound. Asking if he was okay and offering antacids hasn't given him the hint Moore says, as the emissions continue. Moore does say it took almost a dozen coworkers to get this guy to take his smelly fish breakfasts into the breakroom, so maybe getting reinforcements will help.

Jack the Clipper

Jason Mollica used to work in a small academic office. So small, in fact that he could hear his boss clipping his fingernails in the office next door twice a week. Unfortunately, those clippings didn't end up in the trash. Mollica says they littered the desk and floor. “Not exactly something you want to encounter next to important documents,” says Mollica. Now as president of JRM Comm, you won't find Mollica grooming at the office.

Funky Fresh

Krystal Harrell is the Managing Partner of Create Exposure. The marketing and communications agency often uses college students to serve as brand ambassadors. When she encountered a new rep that was especially ripe, Harrell let it go for two days. On day three, she confronted him. “After our discussion, he arrived at his assignment with not only deodorant, but a splash of Axe,” she recalls. Now the company has a mandatory hygiene and image meeting just to keep everyone's image fresh.

Bugging Out

Melyn McKay works as a medical anthropologist in Burundi and her clinic in rural east Africa needs to be clean and sanitary. Unfortunately, one of the talented programmers she works with has different views of cleanliness. “This colleague leaves used dishes in the office where they are then swarmed by the multitude of creatures that live in the region. You find them in the morning, moving on their own.” McKay says she framed her conversation with the offending coworker “in terms of how I react to those sorts of behaviors in hopes that she wouldn't see it as a personal attack.” McKay says the programmer now showers each day and is more careful about leaving food and wrappers around.

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