Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Dilemma: A co-worker wears perfume (too much) to work that is very distracting, and gives me a headache. I don t want to sound like a whiner, but I want her to be told to quit doing it.

I m not sure how you expect her to be told, meaning by whom. Anyone over the age of seven ought to be able to have a grownup conversation with a grownup that sits nearby. So do it. Be direct but not insulting, and make an unapologetic request. Say something like It s possible that I m a little more sensitive to perfume than others, but I m finding your perfume distracting and even, on some days, headache-provoking. I know you couldn t possibly have known that. I m asking if you can just stop wearing it to work.

That kind of statement says several things: That if she wants to go ask other co-workers if it bothers them, that s unproductive, because even if they say it doesn t trouble them, it does bother you, and that s what this is about. You ve acknowledged she certainly didn t make you miserable on purpose, which can cut down on the conflict reaction. And you re suggesting that there s only one solution not changing brands, not wearing less perfume simply not wearing any perfume at all.

Often these uncomfortable requests wind up getting completely messed up because the solution isn t stated clearly enough, the offender is made to feel like a jerk or the person making the request waited too long and was so overwrought and angry that it couldn t possibly be met with anything other than hostility.

That said there are people who don t respond well to such a request.

If this person is that sort (and do not make the assumption before making the request), don t discuss it with all your colleagues. Speak with your supervisor or the human resources person. Present your case unemotionally. It is not, after all, theft of company property; it s perfume you don t like. Say directly that you recognize in the overall scheme of things this isn t the biggest deal in the world. Mention that the perfume is distracting to you, you attempted to resolve the situation yourself and failing that, have come to request assistance.

Bottom line is you shouldn t have to work in a situation that gives you a headache (or a headache worse than normal in your particular line of work). Millions of people in this country are perfume allergic. Remember how all those magazines companies had to come up with different ways of distributing perfume samples in the 1990s because there were so many consumer complaints? Most people are aware of the purfume problem, and they don t inflict intense scents on others. But there s no problem with reminding those who do.

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