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Discreet Ways To Deal With Stinky, Oversharing Or Late Co-Workers

Before pumping yourself up with courage and getting into the conversation, take these precautions.

"OMG! Really. I... I... I don't know what to say..."

Sounds familiar?

Count the number of hours that you spend at work and the number of interactions you have in that day, it's no surprise that occasionally, one of your colleagues, clients or superiors, will leave you speechless.

In anticipation of this involuntary paralysis, here are the right words and behaviours for three common sticky work situations.

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Sticky situation: My colleague stinks! Piou...

Even if odour is oh! so personal, it has ripple effects that can affect the entire team's productivity: difficulty concentrating, moving to another area and gossip.

Whenever I present a civility workshop, someone always asks: "Julie, should I say something?" I always redirect the question to the group: "Would you like to know?" The group's answer is always unanimous "Yes. I would rather know than be the water cooler talk."


Before pumping yourself up with courage and getting into the conversation, take these precautions. Ideally, the conversation should be:

  • Held between persons of the same sex.
  • In a private place, away from long ears and open spaces.
  • Discreet. Do not advertise your intervention.
  • Empathetic and sensitive.
  • Start by pointing out that what you have to say is difficult and that if the roles were reversed, you would appreciate the direct approach.

If you are not close to your co-worker or you cannot seem to find the right words, talk to your superior or to your human resources representative. You would not want to be perceived as harassing, threatening or intimidating.

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Sticky situation: My colleague just told me that she is separating. Sigh.

Caution: Depending on the person's relationship this could be sad or good news.

Regardless, when a colleague shares, show empathy. Listen without adding any comments. Let the other talk. Do not share your own misfortunes and tell of horror stories.

Yes, there are times when the person confiding shares TMI (Too Much Information). And in those instances, do let them know that you do not feel comfortable. State that you prefer maintaining a professional proximity. Difficult? Yes, but necessary at times.


" Thank you for your confidence. Thanks for sharing. I hope that everything will turn out for the best, for you. "

If you are a manager and the employee benefits allow it, don't wait for the employee to come to you. Present flexible work adjustments for this transition.

  • Accommodate a "wellness" leave.
  • Be flexible with work hours; allow the employee to go to appointments.
  • If your environment is "open," offer the meeting room or an unused space for private conversations.
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Sticky situation: My colleague is always late. Grrr!

About 10 minutes after the meeting has begun, "he" enters the room. When you collaborate, "he" delays "his" part, which pushes back the entire project's timeline. It is deflating, unproductive and, quite frankly, you find it disrespectfully rude. Your time is just as precious as his. Right?


Delays interrupt the workflow. They create resentment; periods of non-productive rumination. And as you know, time is money.

Here in Canada, "fashionably late"does not exist. Being on time means being there at the mutually agreed upon time.

Get all the offices clocks tick-tock-ing in the same time zones with these tips:

  • If you are a manager, inform your troops that delays will no longer be tolerated. As their chief, model the expected behaviour and be consistent in the consequences.
  • Start your meetings at an unusual time, like 9:07. Curiosity will get the best of the traditionally late.
  • Be clear when confirming your appointments. You are very busy and have assigned a firm window for your meeting. You cannot extend that period and will leave at the expected conclusion time.
  • For team meetings, assign the role of note-taker to the last person who passes the door. When the latecomer enters, ceremoniously make him note-taker; pass him the pad; paper or electronic. You will never again hear "What have I missed?" Everything will be on the tablet.

If you value and interact often with the tardy employee talk to him privately. Give details on how these delays affect your work. Do not point fingers. Just mention your perspective. If you need support from your supervisor, prepare for the conversation with documented evidence: dates and times of delays with the effects they have had on your work and activities.

And you, you have a sticky work situation? Write to Julie and she will reply. Or get her book Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility.

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