If you had halitosis, would you want to know?

Easy answer.

But would you want to be told?

You may think yes.

The truth is a little more complex.

I had to inform a regular driver he had chronic halitosis.

It had reached the point where our hearts would drop when we got in his car. We’d have to cover our noses.

I also had to tell a technical supplier that he had terrible BO. A whole room could be invaded in minutes by his pungent pong.

In both cases, I was terrified to tell.

How do you do it?

Straight out with it. Give clues? ‘A mint is a hint!’

Yep, I tried all that. No results.

Eventually, I had to come out with it.

‘Mate, there’s no easy way to say this but…’

And here’s where you would think they’d appreciate the heads up. A chance to fix it. But no, in both cases the same response.

Total denial!

Now it becomes uncomfortable. What happens the next time you see them? Or smell them!

What if it isn’t something as obvious as odour?

What if it’s a behaviour? Something you say or do.

Would you want to know?

Would you want to tell?

That’s where Flip It thinking comes to play.

If you’re receiving feedback that makes you flinch, think for a moment about the person who’s giving you the advice.

Chances are they’re dreading having to do it.

They could have been putting it off for ages, hoping they’ll see change or someone else will do it for them.

And if you have to give the news, remember… no one wants to hear what’s wrong.

You must go for it.

Deep breath… please be careful where you exhale.

I’d love to know your experiences and ideas on how you can tackle these awkward situations. Please leave your comments below.


  1. January 20th 2022 by Steve

    A thought that came to mind here is that people do indeed dread giving this kind of feedback. That is why we are more likely to receive it from people we don’t like, who might not mind the consequences. Embrace your enemies and what they say about you!

  2. January 20th 2022 by Violet Harper-Wilkinson

    Regarding someone who has bad breath, I have in the past suggested that someone urgently visit their dental surgeon, without my having to explain why, leaving. the final diagnosis to the dentist.

  3. January 20th 2022 by Douglas Hertel

    I’ve had this kind of conversation in the workplace more than once, with success. The approach I took was to begin by saying “I care about you and want to see you be successful here at (name of company). However, there is something that is keeping you from being completely successful here. It’s your _______” Of course this conversation is very private and without any distractions. It is heartfelt, sincere, and reflects a shared goal of success for the individual. The shared goal is, to me, essential for the individual to accept the help as it is offered.

  4. January 20th 2022 by Jo O'Connell

    Just to say this is genius advice. Perfectly executed, funny and certainly made me think (and check my own breath). Great suggestions in the comments too. Flip It advice sounds like it takes someone from being defensive and in denial to an person who is open and willing to listen (even if they don’t like what they’re hearing). Thanks Michael!

  5. January 20th 2022 by Ann Gash

    Breathing into my facemask to smell my breath …. Would I be able to smell the bad breath if I had halitosis 🤔
    #paranoia #overthinker 🤭

  6. January 20th 2022 by Bonaventura Apicella

    It’s a hard one to deliver, to hint or even say it but, the person who unfortunately suffers from this common plight knows that they have the problem and must have tried to rectify it with no success. It is embarrassing for them as much as for the other person who thinks that they are not aware of the issue, but they are. Of course, they will deny it, because it is so embarrassing. My point is, the person with bad breath, dentist or not, a problem rectified or not, is in a much uncomfortable mindset as much as the person/s is on the receiving hand of it.

  7. January 20th 2022 by Etya

    I find it uncomfortable to talk about the things you’ve mentioned, but over the years I have done it a couple of times. My comments on body odors or hellitosus were not taken kindly.

  8. January 20th 2022 by Milly

    Years ago I had someone working with me who had terrible body odour. She was young so I tried hard to be diplomatic. I purchased some floral deodorant with matching soap and sat her down quietly in a side office and I asked her if she’d noticed how diffent perfumes smell in the bottle and on the skin. How one perfume might smell lovely on one friend but awful on another to which she agreed. Then I mentioned that the same worked for soaps and deodrants and that the deodorant she was using wasn’t working for her but that this one might be more suitable for her. I mentioned that everyone has to try different ones before they find a perfume that they like so it wasn’t anything unusual. After our conversation she always used deodorant. If it hadn’t worked then I would have taken her aside again and been more direct but generally diplomacy works

  9. January 20th 2022 by Milly

    Most of the time when I have to broach a sensitive subject I either ask if they have a spare moment and take them somewhere private (maybe a different room or office) to discuss or arrange to meet up somewhere quiet for coffee or a meal as I have something a little sensative to discuss (depending on who and what’s to be discussed)
    I think about the best way to present the issue to them in the least threatening way and usually open with that or as a last resort. I’m sorry but if it was me I’d want to know. Then let them know as diplomatically as possible the issue and if possible a solution trying to put their mind to rest as much as possible.

  10. January 20th 2022 by Marek Kubiakowski

    Nobody tells me if I have halitosis or not. Every time I get into my brother-in-law’s car, he offers me chewing gum. I don’t know if it is a habit of his or do I have halitosis? Nobody else gives me a mint wherever I go. I’m interpreting it as a habit my brother-in-law has, or maybe he thinks he has halitosis?

  11. January 20th 2022 by Neil Rutherford

    A few years ago there was a restructure at work, where there was going to be redundancies and we had to go to our Edinburgh Head Office. I remember seeing the director of our department visibly shaking, as well as his voice breaking up, as he read out the prepared statement from his line manager. I was worried sick, but took the time to mention to him how difficult it must have been to deliver the message. He was so grateful that I had taken the time to empathise with him. We both survived the restructure and it changed my working relationship with him and whenever i visited our Edinburgh office he always took the time catch up and chat, over a cup of coffee, about work and football.

  12. January 20th 2022 by Amanda Youngs

    I once told my best friend that her bad breath was making me pull away from her physically and avoid being close to her. I tried to avoid taking responsibility onto me for doing it, thinking that maybe someone else should tell her (I was amazed that nobody else had because there was no avoiding it).

    In the end, I thought about how I would feel – I would really want to know if it was me, but I would be mortified to be told in person face-to-face. So I wrote her an email about it, and chose my words so carefully in the hope that she would have the opportunity to deal with the pain of being told that in private.

    It made little difference, unfortunately. She was upset and angry with me. I later found out that she has a dental phobia.

    Our friendship may be a shadow of its former self, but I don’t regret telling her. She did go to the dentist for some work, and no longer has bad breath. I knew she wanted to find a partner, but her halitosis must have prevented that because she was (and is) a lovely human being apart from that. I hope it may one day happen for her.

    Despite the damage that this caused to our friendship, I cannot regret it because I would so hate not to be told if it was me in that position, and I hope that if I ever need to be told something like that, someone will tell me as kindly as I tried to tell her. But the main thing is that they should tell me.

  13. January 21st 2022 by Simon Lewis

    Years ago I was chasing a girl called Julie and following a really nice date I invited her back to a flat I was sharing at the time. My flatmate was out, it was a fab summers evening and yes, she did want to come in for coffee…

    What I didn’t know was that my flatmate had lent his keys to his younger brother who really didn’t seem to know one end of a bar of soap from the other…. So I opened the front door for Julie and was met by a rich smell of unwashed armpits all the way from the sitting room and down the hall. The moment was shattered and Julie made her excuses

    I never did tell Bill (name changed) or even mention it to his brother, but I did get an invitation to Julie’s wedding a couple of years later.

    The lesson I learnt was that really important, potentially life-changing, feedback may not come your way unless you actively ask for it. So that’s what I do – each time I have a new client or manager, I make a point of regularly checking they are getting what they need from me.

  14. January 24th 2022 by Mary Masaba

    I have found that most people do not want to be told.Hints just fall off them and when you finally take the plunge and tell them, most feel offended however sugar coated the approach. The people I advised in my professional capacity, tended to be more accepting. But those I know socially, thought I was full of stuff I prefer not to mention.

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