Navigating Delicate Conversations: Telling Your Manager About Their Bad Breath


Madeleine Horton

“Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” – Blaise Pascal

Imagine this: You’re sitting in a closed meeting room, and your manager is enthusiastically discussing the next big project.

But there’s a catch – a rather… pungent one. Yes, we’re talking about bad breath. It’s distracting, uncomfortable, and frankly, a bit of a mood killer.

But how do you broach such a sensitive topic without offending them or risking your job? Fear not!

In this blog post, we’re spilling the beans on how to navigate this tricky situation with the finesse of a diplomat. You’ll learn not just to communicate effectively but to strengthen your professional relationship in the process.

Ready to turn this awkward situation into a win-win? Let’s dive right in!

Introduction: The Art of Tactful Communication

We’ve all been there: trapped in a conversation where the only thing louder than the words is the bad breath of the person speaking them. And it gets trickier when that person is your manager. This guide is your lifeline to addressing the elephant in the room (or should we say, the odour in the room?) without stepping on toes or causing embarrassment.

Step 1: Assess the Situation

First things first, ensure this is a recurring issue and not just a one-off incident (maybe they had a garlicky lunch, and who hasn’t?). If it’s a persistent problem, it’s worth addressing for their sake and yours.

Step 2: Prepare Your Approach

Empathy is Key: Remember, this chat is about helping them, not shaming. Approach the situation as you would want someone to approach you if the roles were reversed.

Choose the Right Time and Place: Privacy is paramount. Find a discreet moment and a private setting to have the conversation, away from prying ears.

Step 3: Script Your Conversation

Be Direct but Gentle: Start with positive affirmations or express your respect for them before easing into the subject. “I really value your guidance and leadership. There’s something a bit awkward I need to bring up, and I hope I can do so with the same honesty and respect you’ve always shown me.”

Offer Solutions, Not Just Criticism: Be ready with suggestions like mints, dental hygiene products, or even a visit to the dentist, framing it as a common issue many people face.

Step 4: Mind Your Language

Avoid accusatory language or making it seem like a personal flaw. Phrases like “I’ve noticed” or “It seems like” can soften the blow. It’s not about them as a person; it’s about a situation that can be easily fixed.

Step 5: Close on a Positive Note

Reiterate your respect and appreciation for them. Make it clear that this doesn’t change your professional relationship or your view of them as a manager.

Tips and Tricks

  • Anonymous Note: If direct confrontation feels too risky, consider leaving an anonymous, kind note. It’s less personal but can still deliver the message.
  • Use a Buffer: Mentioning that you’re bringing this up on behalf of several team members (only if true) can make the feedback seem more objective and less personal.
  • Be a Role Model: Lead by example. Make sure your own dental hygiene is impeccable, showing that you practice what you preach.


Q: What if my manager reacts negatively? A: Stay calm and professional. Reiterate your good intentions and offer to move past the conversation with no hard feelings.

Q: Should I involve HR? A: Generally, it’s best to address personal issues directly with the person involved. However, if the problem persists and affects the workplace environment, HR can provide guidance on how to proceed sensitively.

Wrapping It Up (With Fresh Breath)

Telling your manager they have bad breath is undoubtedly tricky, but with the right approach, it can be a conversation that strengthens your relationship rather than damages it.

Remember, it’s not just about the bad breath; it’s about fostering an environment of honesty, respect, and support.

With empathy, tact, and a bit of courage, you can navigate this conversation smoothly and come out the other side smelling like roses (or at least, mint).