ASK BRANDY: Keeping your mouth in mint condition

Thursday, August 27, 2009
By Brandy Dolce

breath-BADQ: I have a co-worker who has not-so-fresh breath. Other co-workers have noticed this, too, and I fear for the customers whom he helps. How can I address this situation appropriately?

Jason, 33, Holmdel

A: If a co-worker’s breath is so potent that your nostrils are thinking about taking a vacation from your face, hand the person a piece of gum for Pete’s sake. A simple “Have some gum” will do and is subtler than passing out right in front of him.
Or try talking to him about how you pop a mint into your mouth every now and then to make sure your breath is aromatically pleasing for your customers. Having mints available in a bowl behind the front desk may be one way to help your colleague.
You also could bring in a package of those new portable “textured teeth wipes” Oral-B just came out with and pass them around at work. You can get a 12-pack of Brush-Ups for $2.99 and people will think they’re neat. I do, and everyone thinks like me.
Get into a conversation about hygiene, starting with what you do, is a good way to broach the subject. I wouldn’t, however, come out and say, “Man, I think something died in your mouth.” It’s just not tactful.
Speaking of tact, CNN did a piece called “Saying the unsayable to your co-worker,” which included an interview with Anne Humphries, founder and president of ETICON, an etiquette consulting firm.
I may not be a certified etiquette consultant, but I do, for about 40 hours each week, sit sandwiched in a 20-foot-by-10-foot cubicle we call the “bull pen” with seven co-workers. So, yes, I believe myself to be qualified to speak on the subject of workplace etiquette, as I haven’t been fired yet.
And I honestly can say that if I ever do some of the things she suggested to do when talking with colleagues, I give my co-workers permission to let me walk around without telling me I have something stuck between my teeth.
Humphries-approved acts, according to the interview, include gathering a team of co-workers to confront the person, or if that doesn’t work, taking the battalion to a supervisor to tattle. What about something as simple as an anonymous note left on the co-worker’s desk, locker or mailbox?
I do agree with Humphries on her point of alerting a supervisor to the problem if it’s getting out of hand, but on a one-on-one basis. There’s no need to increase your co-worker’s humiliation by holding a staff meeting on behalf of his swamp breath.
In your case, if customers are being lost to what can only be attributed to your co-worker’s bad breath, then it’s time to say something to the boss.
Ask Brandy is accepting questions on the bizarre, the ordinary and everything in between. Questions are answered Fridays in the Jersey Life section of the Asbury Park Press. E-mail your question, name, age and town to or fax your information to (732) 643-xxxx.

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