Madame Tomorrow on: Smelly Roommates

in Culture

Dear Madame Tomorrow,

My roommate is a pretty cool guy, but he has a fatal flaw. He like never showers. I like him as a person, but I can’t stand this stench in my room. I have tried to hint at the problem, but he doesn’t seem to notice his own stink. How do I tell him that he needs to adjust his odor without sounding like a jerk?

Please Help,
Roommate Troubles


Dear Troubles,

That is quite the predicament. You can’t live in a place that smells gross and so you are right to take action. You said you have already tried to drop some hints to your roommate, that is a good first step, but there are some tips that you should keep in mind when you go in for the kill. For example when you comment on it try not to speak out of spite. Don’t bring it up when you are upset about something especially if that something is your roommate and also make sure when you make your comment that you are sincere and not condescending. It sounds like you respect your roommate as a person so it won’t be hard to sound like you care.

Also make sure that you break the news in a private place, not in front of other people. The more people are around, the more hurtful and awkward your roommate will feel. With that in mind, also avoid saying things like “several people have noticed.” or “I’m not the only one that thinks so.” When the time comes your comment must be clear, concise, and compassionate. Cushion the blow so that he knows you are serious and worth listening to. One formula used by  Halley Bock, CEO of Fierce Inc. is, “name the issue, give an example, describe it objectively (as a video camera would), clarify why it’s important, say you want to resolve it, and invite the person to respond.” Try not to sound so disgusted or intense, but get the point across. So the big moment could go like, “look man it stinks in here, when i walk into our room it smells pretty gross. I think you might have some pretty bad B.O. I want to hang out with you and I want to enjoy being in our room, could you please try to shower more?”

Donna Flagg, author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations: How to Talk Through Any Difficult Situation at Work, uses the template, “I’m sure you’re not aware of it, but thought you’d like to know that I’m noticing an odd odor. I think it might be your….. (fill in the blank.)” The final step in having a better smelling life is let him respond. He may respond with denial, defensiveness or deflection at first or he might tell you about a very problematic medical issue. Give him some time to consider what you have said and then help him come up with a solution. Sometimes situations like these can be delicate, but If you’re careful, you and your roommate can get through this together and smell better.


Good Luck,
The Madame