Halitosis

Question:

Hi What would be the best way to deal with a situation when you have two managers that have severe Halitosis?

Signed,

Concerned


Answer:

Dear Concerned:

The big question is, are the managers subordinate to you or are you subordinate to them? Either way, it’s not an easy task. But, it’s much easier when you have a role that is required to supervise them.

If you are their boss, you have two options. You can have a closed door session with each of them, in which you mention the long history of them having breath odor, and telling them to fix it right away. You may need to discuss what it might take to do that, and likely there will be some back and forth about it between the two of you.

Or, the next time one of them talks to you and you notice the odor, just say something, in a confidential tone of voice, like, “Whew. Greg, I’m noticing some breath issues. Could you take care of that right away?” Say it as though it’s a secret between the two of you and you’re giving him a few minutes to go do something.

You may want to have an “extra” toothbrush and toothpaste and some mouthwash handy, and say you always keep travel size in your office just for times when you need to freshen up, so he or she can have yours.

If they have the same problem the next day, do it again, only this time say something like, “Greg, I’m noticing that breath thing again. That could really create a problem with people who you talk to. There’s obviously something you’re doing or not doing that is causing it. Whatever it takes, make sure you get that situation taken care of, OK?”

If it continues, talk to your own manager or to HR first, to make sure you’re approaching it the right way from their perspective, and say, “Greg, I don’t know what’s causing the breath issue, but you need to see a dentist or a doctor and do something about it. It’s not fair to make employees have to deal with you with that going on.”

He may ask if someone else has said anything. All you have to say is, “I HOPE no one else has come close enough to have to deal with it like I have. But, maybe it has bothered them and they’ve been too embarassed to say something. Do you want me to ask them?”

(I’ve said that several times to people and it stops the “no one has said anything” argument, every time!)

Here’s the key point: Bad breath is almost never an unsolveable problem. Do some research about it so you have some responses if needed. But it isn’t your job to find solutions for him, it’s his responsiblity. You will find yourself spending a lot of time trying to help someone who won’t help himself.

My experience has been that breath problems are almost always related to failure to brush several times a day; failure to floss and get decaying food out; drinking coffee, smoking or chewing tobacco and having the residue on the tongue and mouth (tongue scrapers are excellent for that); having sinus problems where there is mucous draining in the back of the throat. That latter issue usually comes and goes, it isn’t there all the time.

I am aware that stomach problems can cause bad breath, but if that’s the case, someone must be sick a lot to have constant bad breath!

OK, all of that is for if you are the supervisor. What if you’re not? Your relationship with the people will make the difference..and few of us are such good friends with our managers that we could talk about that.

Consider the way I don’t like…sneaky. I hate it, but sometimes it’s the only way! Leave a caring and courteous note that says they are well liked but they have a problem that needs to be fixed, put mouthwash on the desk, put an ad for a tongue scrapper and cleanser on the desk or something similar. Don’t leave mints or gum because they won’t catch on.

You could also go to the person over them, or send an anonymous note, if you feel you must. Again, I don’t like that, but I understand it. Say that you and others dread having them help you because of the breath issue. You can bet their bosses have noticed too!

It’s difficult I know. I’ve talked to at least a dozen people about this over time and it’s awkward, but needs to be done. I have worked with people from other companies or sections, with whom I had no direct working relationship and felt I had to endure it. Not pleasant.

I saw one of those men ten years later and he still about knocked me over! So, with a bit more confidence than I had the last time I saw him, I said, in a confidential tone, “Fred, I know you’d kill me if you found out later I’d noticed this but didn’t say anything…umm..you’re having a breath issue right now. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not garlic or anything like that. I just knew you’d want to know about it.”

The man said, “Ohhh, I had chili last night. That must be it.” I said, “Nope, I don’t think so. It’s really worse than that. But, it’s your mouth, so it’s up to you what you do about it. I’ll just stand back a bit.”

He stepped back too, and we had an awkward conversation! But it was better than having him hunkered close to me and me trying to get away! (And, maybe later it helped.)

Best wishes to you with this situation. If you have the time and want to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe