The person sitting across from you at lunch has broccoli stuck in their teeth. Do you tell them? Unzipped zipper? Noticeable salsa spill on their shirt? Each of these situations could potentially be embarrassing–for both you and the person with the personal problem.
Personal remarks–saying something personal to another person–are governed by three rules:
- How well do you know them?
- How embarrassed are they going to be if you don’t tell them?
- Can they do something about it
So, when you see something like an unzipped zipper or boogers, ask yourself those 3 questions before you speak. For example, if you know the person well and you know they’ll be embarrassed, tell them. But a salsa spill on the front of a women’s blouse is a “no go” because the salsa spiller can’t fix it without going home to change. Just act like you don’t see a thing! Imagine a girl on prom night whose date informs her that she has a rip in her dress. Date ruined. She probably didn’t pack a sewing kit. If her date points the rip out she’ll obsess about it all night. Just let it go.
Another thing to consider is personal space. Never enter into someone’s personal space to fix a crumpled collar, remove a bug or leaf, etc. 18″ is rule for standard body space between two people. Bugs and collars are easy fixes so you’d certainly say, “Excuse me, Elizabeth, there is a leaf in your hair.” No touching. Period.
Bad breath and body odor are especially challenging.
The rule to adhere to in those situations is how well do you know them. Peers and co-workers can not address personal hygiene issues among themselves. Someone gets paid a penny more to handle tough issues–let them handle it. If your co-worker smells bad and is ruining the business, quietly let higher paid person know. If that’s you–here’s what you’d say: “Excuse me, Lynley, is everything o.k. at home? (yes) at work? (yes) Well that’s good but I was wondering because lately your hygiene has suffered.” Think about it. When they leave your office, you’ve given them two “outs” by offering an excuse for their poor hygiene–it’s like saying you’d never consider them to just be lazy or slothful.
“Excuse me” is the only way to begin a conversation that will include a personal remark.
Don’t use cute phrases or point. “Cow’s out of the barn” isn’t acceptable for telling someone their zipper is open. “Bear in the cave” won’t work for boogers. Be direct and tactful. A speedy delivery of the personal remark will be appreciated. “Excuse me, Allison, you have a booger in your nose.” “Excuse me, Skip, your zipper is open.”
Yes. You’ll be embarrassed to tell them. Yes. They’ll be mortified you had to make a personal remark.
Etiquette rules exist to help smooth the path between two people.
If your remark can save a person from embarrassment themselves, by all means, make the remark.