Get advice on how to deal with jerks at work Check out the book 'Jerks At Work' and other titles by Ken Lloyd Ph.D. Return to the homepage Learn more about Ken Lloyd, Ph.D. Submit a question to Ken Lloyd, Ph.D.

You asked, Ken answers ...

This item is filed under these categories:
Feedback Communication Privacy

I feel foolish writing this to you, but our boss has bad breath, to the point that it is very hard to even have a short conversation with him. We want to say something, but we are reluctant because he may react all wrong. Is there a way to tell him without causing a problem?

It can be difficult to air your complaints to your boss when your complaint is the air from your boss. If he is a friendly, open, and responsive leader who truly listens to the staff, you should not have much of a problem. However, if he is a boss who not only has questionable breath, but also questionable managerial and interpersonal skills, it is difficult to give him any kind of feedback.

Nonetheless, if anything is going to change, one approach is for someone to talk to him. With this option, it should only be one person, as this is a matter that calls for real privacy.

In such a meeting, the best approach is to use questions rather than conclusions, meaning that you do not just say, "You have dragon breath." Rather, since bad breath can be a sign of any number of problems, from hygiene to illness, you can ask him if he is feeling well, as several of you have noticed this specific problem. If you approach him from the standpoint of care and concern rather than criticism, you can have breathtaking results.

A second option is an anonymous note. However, if your relationship with the boss calls for anonymity when giving feedback, the work atmosphere may have more problems than merely his breath.

Comment on this item

Your name (optional)
If you leave this blank, we'll list you as "Website visitor"

Your comments
Please keep your comments focused on the topic. Thanks!