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nimarka1's avatar

How do you tell someone politely they smell?

Asked by nimarka1 (939 points ) January 28th, 2010

I work at a gym, and recently we had a woman join a few days ago who just smells horrible! I have spoken to her a few times and is a really nice person. Then when she starts to work out she produces the most powerful body odor I have ever smelled in my life. She is European, and I know they are not accustomed to wearing deodorants, just perfumes, or sometimes nothing, but this is just way too bad. So bad that we have had several complaints about her from other members. People clear out the room because of her. My co-workers and I are stuck in this horrible situation we have never handled. I mean, we don’t want to hurt her feelings or embarrass her, yet other members are complaining and we have to do something about it. Should we tell her in person, write her an email, leave her a note with her gym bag with a complimentary deodorant? We also don’t want to offend her and then she decides to quit! Do you think she even notices that she smells? We also don’t want to make her feel like we are accusing her of something when she has no idea what she has done.
Any suggestions would be fine!! What would do, and what would you say?

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33 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

From a distance ;)

Jay170590's avatar

First of all europeans do wear deodorants but you should just tell her but don’t say she stinks just say that her body odour is strong and she should wear deodorant. She might have extra sweat glands or something.

Judi's avatar

If you don’t handle it you will loose more members because they are to embarrassed to tell you WHY they are quiting. You have to be honest but gentle. I am sure she will be appalled but not at you, but at not realizing the effect she is having on others. You may loose one customer but you will likley keep many more.
I had to tell an apartment resident that we had replaced the toilet and snaed it out and the only problem was that her poop was to big! I had to tell her she had to break it up before she flushed it. Ugggggg…..

Jeruba's avatar

You must do something. She is certain to be embarrassed no matter what you do, but you may also be doing her a favor. Chances are that other people than those at the gym are reacting negatively to her.

What if two of you spoke to her together, with a very gentle version of the good-guy bad-guy approach? Let one soften the message and the other make sure it is very clear. If it is a matter of personal hygiene, perhaps she could shower before working out. It could be a matter of health; a clean, healthy person is not supposed to smell bad.

nimarka1's avatar

we also dont want her hurt her feelings or embarrase her. like whats exaclty would you say?

OneMoreMinute's avatar

You need not speak with her directly, rather, politely and sincerely inform management of the healthclub. They know how to ‘clear the air!’ No ones feelings get burned.

Judi's avatar

You say, ” This is really difficult for me. It’s embarrassing and I don’t want to have to tell you this, but we have had complaints form several members about your body odor. I don’t know if you realize it or not, but it is kind of offensive. You may want to check with your doctor and see if there are any underlying causes.” Then give her some clinical strength Secret and apologize for being the person who had to bring it up.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Well, it certainly has to be done tactfully, as you already know. But because it has to be done tactfully it also has to be done directly. That is, a note stuck to a gym bag and a complementary deodorant sample not only will not get the message across but will be seen as rude, cold and decidedly un-tactful and unhelpful. Don’t go that route as a member of the gym management (although members may prefer to do something along those lines themselves—that’s a different story).

She is obviously unaware of her scent, even if she is aware (however vaguely) that people are avoiding her. She has probably noticed that, but mis-attributed it to her foreignness or to some other factor. So if you handle this well, you will be doing her a huge favor, even if she doesn’t thank you directly for telling her. (You can certainly understand that!)

The way I would do this is to not make it an issue of hygiene (even though it might be that, of course), but ask her instead about her diet. Many people who consume a lot of garlic, for example, will have an offensive sweat odor, even though they are as clean as can be. As to the wording you use, or how you bring it up exactly, well… good luck with that.

OneMoreMinute's avatar

Whoops, I misread to fast, I read that you “worked out” there, now I noticed you wrote that you “work” there. -sorry What does your supervisor or manager suggest?

additionally, What makes you say she doesn’t know about the body odor? Could it be intentional tool to keep other people at a distance.
I know when I’m ripe!

CMaz's avatar

Don’t say anything.
Just fan the air in front of them with one hand. While holding your nose with the other.

Your_Majesty's avatar

Introduce her to ‘deodorant’ if she don’t know what it’s use for. Or if you can’t talk to her,just tell her friend about this and ask them to deal with her. It would be much easier and less confrontation.

faye's avatar

And please post what happens. I would hate to be in your position.

nimarka1's avatar

@Doctor_D we thought of that, but the problem is she is new here, and signed up alone. But it would be the easiest way to tell her.

nimarka1's avatar

@faye hahaha do not worry i will keep you all posted to see what happenes

Trillian's avatar

Are you in a supervisory position? If not, kick it up to your sup. You don’t get paid enough to be a hammer, and also it’s a management decision to make. If you’re not management, you could be considered to be “out of line”. A letter may be a better option, I certainly wouldn’t tell her that others had been complaining. Leadership takes the responsibility all on itself. Let her think it’s coming strictly from the one speaking.
I lived in Italy for three years, and I’ve smelled that smell. It comes from the diet, I think.
You could also pass out flyers to EVERYONE that state something about; “Due to increased risk of infection, we ask that everyone is showered prior to workouts” or something. Again, this would need to be cleared through management, but it wouldn’t single her out that way.

whiteroseman's avatar

This is a really bad situation to be in. I have worked in the food industry for many years and have had to do this twice and it is easier to fire soembody than tell them they smell. A colleague of mine once had to tell one of his team they smelled. He took him into his ofice and gently asked if he was aware that he had a strong body odour and was surprised when the chap said he knew and his wife loved it and did not want him to shower or use deodorant as she loved his “manly” smell. My friend had to tell him that he could do whatever he wanted at home but he needed to shower before starting his shift.

nimarka1's avatar

My boss told me she’s going to probably write her an Email but still is not sure what to do. It would be easier on our part, but at the same time if you were this person, would you rather receive an email, or someone tell you in person. I think its worse to get an email because it means there was a lot of thought put into it and that is more embarrassing for me (if I were her) and it is a very personal matter, therefore in person would be better? You think she is aware that she herself smells this bad? What in the world could she be eating, so i never touch that again!

kruger_d's avatar

This definitely should be dealt with in person. It will be easier to hear from someone who is equally discomforted by the situation and there will be much less chance of misunderstanding.

susanc's avatar

Tell her the simplest version of the truth, if your dumb-ass cowardly email-writing manager can’t. Tell her people have noticed that when she breaks a sweat the odor is very strong and it bothers them. Do NOT try to suggest where this odor is coming from. It’s her problem to figure that out, and she’ll be really embarrassed if you start saying, “Maybe you should use more soap” “more deodorant” “change brands” “eat like a normal person” “not be European” “get a clue” etc. No one wants to offend people in this way. She’ll motivate herself to figure it out. Offer to track her progress with her. She’s not a nasty person. She has a problem. Solve it with her.

borderline_blonde's avatar

I guess I’m in the minority here, but I would rather have an email sent (from the management of the gym, so that one person can’t be pinpointed) – I would be so embarrassed if someone came up to me directly. I know I wouldn’t be able to face that person again.

OneMoreMinute's avatar

A most delicate issue here.
Careful as not to get the healthclub sued. There maybe legal issues or lawsuits.

faye's avatar

I agree with @borderline_blonde. However anything actually written could be used against you in a situation like @OneMoreMinute suggests.

MrsDufresne's avatar

@ChazMaz That is the perfect answer! LOL

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Are you sure she’s not ill? Body odor can be a sign of liver or kidney disease. Perhaps you could broach the subject that way, in a friendly concerned manner. “I noticed that you have a rather pungent body odor, and am wondering if you have any serious health issues that would restrict your abilities to use club facilities?”

warka1's avatar

scratch your under arms.

Siren's avatar

I would suggest something close to what @Trillian suggested: put up a sign in the ladies bathroom about personal hygiene and recent complaints and that for the benefit of all gym patrons “please be mindful of body odor, leaving wet towels on the floor (throw in a few other things), and keeping the change rooms, showers and equipment stations neat after use for the next person”, or something like that. Maybe state that these rules will need to be followed or patrons will be approached by management.

If she doesn’t get the hint from the sign, you have warned her (and everyone) in advance and then I would pull her aside and tell her that there have been a few complaints and you are approaching all patrons to ensure they understand.

If she still doesn’t get it, then yes, I would hand out free deodorants on the day she is working out (and body spray) and everyone can hose down the air around her and themselves.

If that doesn’t help, perhaps ask the manager to install scented air fresheners everywhere and crank up the fans.

And if that doesn’t help and people are leaving in droves, tell her she stinks, cancel her membership and call it a day.

Jeruba's avatar

Something too global and indirect won’t reach her and will just make others uneasy. If she’s aware of this and has lived with it all her life, she won’t pick up that it’s about her. If she isn’t, she won’t pick up that it’s about her. I think you need a more direct intervention that won’t leave it up to her to figure out the real message.

What about something like this—in private, and maybe right before she leaves, not as soon as she arrives—so she can flee afterward?

“Mrs. Neptune, I have to bring up something delicate. I hate to say anything, because the last thing we want to do is embarrass anyone, but maybe it’s something you are already aware of.”

And then either this:

“Have you noticed that some of our other members avoid sharing a workout area with you? Do you know why this is? Okay, so we were thinking there might be a health reason, and we wanted to urge you to see your doctor about it. Otherwise, it might just be a matter of remembering to shower right before you work out. That’s what some people have to do in order to avoid offending others when they work up a sweat.”

or this:

“As you know, people work up a sweat when they exercise. Some people do not have a very strong personal odor even when they sweat. Other people don’t notice it. People are noticing you. We think you might be more comfortable using our gym if you didn’t have to worry about upsetting the other people in the room. Can we offer you a couple of suggestions?”

nimarka1's avatar

hey thank you all for your responses and so many different ideas and scenarios. I will keep you updated on what happens!

Self_Consuming_Cannibal's avatar

Wow. That’s a tough one. I don’t really know if there’s a polite way to say, “Hey you stink.” So I say just tell her when she’s alone (so probably when she’s at the peak of her sweatiness), to help keep her embarrassment to a minimum, that her odor is infringing upon the rights of others enjoyment and that she needs to wear deodorant or something to keep the smell to a minimum. (Wow that’s the first time I’ve ever used the word minimum twice in the same sentence.)

So basically, to quote a movie, “The only way to do it, is to do it.”

nimarka1's avatar

hey everyone i just thought you might want to know what happened. It was kind of a shocker considering it wasn’t her who smelled horrible…it was her clothing! she would work out in this jacket, the same jacket, everyday. We noticed this because the very next 2 times she came, it seemed she came from work (probably lunch break) and didn’t smell at all. Then she would come out of the locker rooms and we noticed it was definitely her clothing. she just never washes her clothes! how gross is that! her clothing smelled so bad that 20 minutes after she left the stretching room i went inside and had to hold my breath, and get out it was so bad.
so my boss confronted her about it…she was so nervous (its not a position anyone wants to be in) and the member was really nice about it. she has actually started coming in more often this week. so it turned out pretty good.

nimarka1's avatar

except a bit grosser

Siren's avatar

@nimarka1: I’m glad it worked out for you and your business. It’s a pretty tricky situation to be in with a customer/client when you feel forced to make a personal remark about their hygiene habits, even if it is a gym and people are complaining. You never know if the individual will be insulted enough to drop their membership and spread the bad word about your business, even if it was said constructively and with concern for other patrons.

Jeruba's avatar

Wow! In that case, I can’t even imagine how she failed to notice it. Maybe besides not smelling good, she also doesn’t smell well.

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