Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

How to Gently Tell a Co-Worker They Smell

DEAR NATALIE: I have an intern working with me, and this person has a bad odor to them. It's not body odor, but more the smell of dirty feet. (I know, this is really gross). At first I thought I was imagining it, but now I can tell that it is definitely this person. It's to the point that I don't breathe out of my nose when this person is sitting near me. I'm really afraid my colleagues and the people who work under me are going to say something about it and hurt this person's feelings. Should I say something? I have no idea how to even bring something like that up! -- Smelly Situation

DEAR SMELLY SITUATION: As unpleasant as this smell is, addressing the issue may actually be more so. This person may not even realize that there is an issue, and my guess is that the smell is coming from his or her clothes, not necessarily him or her. In any case, you should pull the person aside and gently inform him or her before someone says something hurtful. The next time you are around the person and notice the "smell," ask if you can speak together for a minute. Then just be honest. Say you have noticed an odor and you are wondering whether maybe it is this person's clothes? This is going to make the person feel uncomfortable, to say the least, but I really don't see any other option. Home life, socioeconomic situation or cultural background could be playing a role in this, so please tread lightly. While the odor may offend you, the way you react to it could really hurt the person. So try and bring this up in a way that you would want to have someone talk to you about a delicate situation. 

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Your face says it all when networking with others. Are you holding back a yawn? Not making eye contact? Are you smiling and nodding, looking at them and engaged? Remember, it isn't just the words we say but the way in which we carry ourselves that can dictate the outcome of our encounters. 

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)