A diplomatic way to clean the air
I am writing to you about a problem we are faced with regarding one of our management employees. The basic problem is one of personal hygiene, specifically, bad body odor. This employee interacts with internal employees and customers. He is adequately compensated and reasonably intelligent.
I do not know how to discuss this with this employee without being offensive. This problem has gotten worse over the years he has worked for this company.
I don't know if this problem comes from lack of bathing or a medical problem that causes body odor or prevents bathing.
This employee is a very loyal and hard-working employee. However, this problem will probably hold him back from advancement due to the fact that he would be required to interact with more customers. Please give me some advice on how to discuss this with this employee.
Anyone reading your letter will squirm with discomfort at the thought of confronting this problem head-on but that is exactly what I suggest you do. (Anyone who thinks managers don't earn their money, take note.)
You obviously care about this person and are concerned about his career. If he will be held back or lose his job because of this problem, you owe him a heart- to- heart talk and a chance to correct it.
The fact that this problem is affecting your company's image with your customers is serious business. Internal co-workers are suffering, too.
The first problem to overcome is your own embarrassment. It's easy to project your own feelings of humiliation in a situation like this. Don't get preoccupied with how embarrassed he'll feel or how he'll react when you tell him.
The more you anguish over your words when you do tell him, the worse he'll feel. The only way to get through this is to discuss it as unemotionally as you can. Treat it like any other business problem and you'll find you're able to be more matter-of-fact.
Call him in to your office and get right to the point. Lengthy small- talk will only make him more anxious about what you're trying to say. Also, don't spend 10 minutes telling him how tough it is to tell him what you're about to tell him.
Simply begin by saying, "Because you're dedicated to this company and a hard worker, I know you'd want to know if there was something that could get in the way of your advancement or was hurting the way you are perceived around here."
"Whatever deodorant you're using is letting you down on a regular basis. I've had that problem myself sometimes but I found that some products work better than others." Listen to what he says and listen for the recognition that this is a serious problem. If he doesn't realize how significant the problem is, be straight about how it will hold him back on his job (use a customer service example).
If he says he is using deodorant say, "I want to help you solve this problem. Have you ever had this checked out by a doctor? I don't know much about this but I do know there are some people who have a medical condition that can be treated. Why don't you take some time off and visit your doctor. If you don't have one, I'd be happy to help you find one."
Close the conversation with a warm, caring comment but emphasize resolution of the problem: "I care about you, John and I want to see you succeed at whatever you do. Conversations like this are never easy but I know I'd sure want to be told if I had a problem that was getting in my way." Summarize the actions he suggests, "Why don't you set up an appointment by the end of the week with your doctor and we'll talk again in a few weeks to see how it's going. I'm sure you'll have this problem solved in no time."
Once you've handled a subject this tough, anything else will be no sweat.
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Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized training (leadership skills, presentation skills, internal consulting skills & facilitation skills), team conflict resolution and retreat facilitation.
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