The problem: My co-worker has started to wear a strong perfume that is making me nauseated. We get along great, so how do I tell her to please stop wearing it?
Low road: Stand close to her and say, “Wow! What’s that smell? Something must have died in the pipes here.”
High road: Ahem. You get along great, and you want to continue getting along great, which means peaceful coexistence and mutual respect. She obviously likes the way she smells. Maybe someone special gave this perfume to her. Maybe it reminds her of someone she loves, like her mom. Who knows? You’re getting ill, which likely means lower productivity on your part. I’d suggest that you quietly take this up with your supervisor, who, if wise, will send out a general — and clear — e-mail to the entire team reminding them to be considerate of co-workers’ scent sensibilities.
To be fair, the boss should include a request to abstain not just from wearing perfume, but to please enjoy stinky cheeses in the lunchroom, and to remember to toss the smelly remains of that sausage pizza or gyro sandwich in the communal garbage away from closely spaced cubes.
If your co-worker doesn’t get the hint, the kindest — and likely most effective — approach is to tell her that you have been feeling unwell lately and it seems to be connected to perfumes. Ask her if she might be willing to hold off on wearing hers for a week to see how things go. If things improve (as they likely will), thank her for helping you feel better. It will be hard for her not to get the hint. But if she doesn’t, you might need to request a move to a different desk. Stay friendly with her via e-mail check-ins and an occasional invitation to go to lunch — at an outdoor cafe.
Send questions about life’s little quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org.