Advice to someone whose room mate tends to get up their nose

Dear Ash,

I have recently been moved to a new department and consequently have to share a room with a new colleague. The person I share a room with is perfectly pleasant and has a good sense of humour but I have some issues with regard to her personal hygiene. I do not want to hurt her feelings, but as our room is relatively small and the windows are locked due to the air conditioning system, I don’t feel that I can just ignore the issue. Please help!

Ash replies:

In this era of open plan offices the issue of personal hygiene is something that is difficult to ignore! However, having to deal with this issue in a relatively confined place can understandably prove even more difficult to ignore. Inevitably, personal hygiene is a sensitive subject to approach and especially when the person is pleasant.

Initially, I would avoid any direct approach as you do not want to sour your relationship with your colleague at such an early stage and thus create a difficult environment in which to work. As you rely on the air conditioning system, it may be worth highlighting in conversation whether the room temperature is too high in order to try to gauge from your colleague whether she too finds it too warm. If she agrees that it is too warm, you could volunteer to speak with the maintenance staff in order to have the temperature adjusted in your room. This may help to alleviate any problem with sweating and make the air a bit fresher.

If this still does not help alleviate the offending odour then you may consider bringing a deodorising air freshener to work. You could buy one with an automatic timer switch in order to avoid having to actually spray the deodoriser yourself and cause any alarm or suspicion to your colleague. You could explain that due to the lack of fresh air in the room you prefer to have the air freshener in the room for both of you to enjoy.

These solutions are clearly temporary measures but as you have just recently moved departments and are still in the process of building relations, it is not advisable, in my opinion, to approach such a sensitive issue in a direct manner at this stage. However, if the issue is still bothersome a few months down the line, and you feel that you have quite a good and open relationship with your colleague, then at that point you may feel comfortable enough to address the issue with her in a direct but tactful manner. However, be warned that by taking the direct approach, you potentially risk causing a certain degree of upset and resentment due to the sensitive nature of the problem and you have to weigh up whether you would rather risk offending your colleague than your nostrils!

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.
Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education and Training Department. For one-to-one advice contact Education and Training Manager Katie Meanley on 0131 476 8105/8200, or .
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