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Jane is one of my female colleagues. She doesn't get on well with a third colleague, Joe.

As he does every morning, Joe comes in to our office to say hello. Right after that, I receive an instant message from Jane through the office chat (in a private channel) saying:

I don't want to be mean but does he shower in the morning?

I know that Joe can sometimes smell sweaty, especially when it's hot, but it has never been a major problem for me.

I don't know how to respond to that, without being rude to either of them and staying as professional as I can.

Notes:

  • Jane is from China, we work in western Europe.
  • Jane can be really sensitive to body odours.
  • Joe does not work near Jane, and the morning greeting is about the only physical contact they have every day.
  • It's not the first time she said something rude about somebody else in the company : I always try to change the subject or not to respond, but it's the first time it's so blatantly mean.
  • 2
    Not at all the same question, but on a similar topic: Dealing with co-workers that do not shower – David K Jun 28 '18 at 14:46
  • Is Jane gossiping a lot about Joe ? Is this a first time ? – Walfrat Jun 29 '18 at 13:44
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    Moderator note: Please use 'suggest improvements' only to suggest improvements or to ask for clarification. Comments are not meant for discussions, posting snarky remarks, arguing why other comments are invalid, or for complaining about deleted comments. If you think another comment doesn't suggest any improvement, flag it and move on. Moderators don't go on a "witch hunt" against comments. Comments on this question are being deleted because they are being repeatedly brought to our attention via comment flags. Please get a chat room for further off-topic discussions. – Masked Man Jun 30 '18 at 3:48
90

Close her question as off-topic. Dismiss her gossip:

Joe does not share his daily routine with me, so I wouldn't know about it. You should probably ask him directly if you are so curious.

If she continues bothering you, you can choose to be more stern:

Jane, I do not want to have this talk. If it really bothers you, you can talk to Joe directly.

  • 32
    this comes off a bit passive-aggressive. Given there's apparently multiple cultures invovled, this answer comes with risks of aggravating the situation. (Like Jane actually asking whether he showers or not) – Jeffrey Jun 28 '18 at 15:26
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    @Jeffrey This has nothing to do with culture. "Jane" is just being mean. Gossiping about someone behind their back, especially at the workplace, is unprofessional and unacceptable in nearly any culture I can think of, and definitely so in the Chinese culture. The dismissive tone is deliberately used to give her a hint that gossiping about someone is not ok, and in any case, the OP shouldn't waste their time dealing with it. If "Jane" meant to ask Joe about his showering, she would have done it already, and doesn't need the OP to tell her. – Masked Man Jun 28 '18 at 15:42
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    @MaskedMan I'd have to disagree with some of your comment. Unless you're using a specific definition of "gossiping", discussing coworkers without them being present is pretty universal and whether or not said discussion is unprofessional or mean is context dependent. Even this specific case turns on the actual relationships between Joe, Jane, and the OP. – iheanyi Jun 29 '18 at 0:14
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    @iheanyi Yeah, I am using a specific definition of gossiping - the one found in an English dictionary. It may be "universal" to discuss about coworkers, but talking bad things about anyone behind their back is definitely mean. Moreover, prefixing the comment with "I don't want to be mean but" almost certainly confirms that the person knows she is being mean. – Masked Man Jun 29 '18 at 1:24
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    @MaskedMan If the trash-talk behind Joe's back is a repeated occurrence, then you are right, but if I thought that someone smells, then I would run it through a friend to check myself, before suggesting the said person they should shower. Would that be a gossip as well? I'm just giving the benefit of doubt here, and I personally think this is not the case, but we can't treat every personal comment behind one's back as unacceptable or malicious gossip. There are cases where it makes some sense. – luk32 Jun 29 '18 at 12:01
91

I would simply say

Doesn't bother me

and leave it there.

It is not rude to either one and more likely than not Jane should get the hint that you are not interested in discussing Joe with Jane behind his back.

  • 6
    This is the answer I'd personally give (if I honestly wasn't bothered by it). By recommending Jane to do something about it (e.g. asking Joe directly), Jane would likely take offense and start complaining about me to Bob. – CPHPython Jun 29 '18 at 9:13
  • @CPHPython 1. "(if I honestly wasn't bothered by it)" you said in the question, that it has not been anything major... that suggests it doesn't bother you in any practical way. 2. Why would she take offense? And why the hell would she negatively gossip about you?! It's her personal problem. Maybe it's time to stop caring what personal opinion Jane has about other people, maybe even disregard professional opinions as well. The only suggestion to this answer I have is to add something like "but I know that some people have sharper smell". Say it doesn't concern you and make it your fault. – luk32 Jun 29 '18 at 11:56
  • @luk32 1. I didn't write the question... 2. If Jane gossips as mentioned, she'd take the first opportunity to release her frustration on someone else for you not going along with her sneaky/devious badmouthing ways (besides losing her trust). – CPHPython Jun 29 '18 at 13:33
  • @CPHPython Oh, my bad. Sorry my comment is completely off. I thought for some reason you are the OP and know her behaviour. It makes some sense to be afraid of that, for a 3rd party. Sorry again. – luk32 Jun 29 '18 at 14:28
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I am surprised that none of the other answers have proposed what I would consider the simplest response to comments of this nature:

No response at all.

At work, if somebody asks you a question or makes a statement that you find awkward, offensive or otherwise unpleasant, and it has no direct link to or effect upon your work, you are not obliged to respond and you always have the option of simply saying nothing and letting the comment hang.

In my experience it's an effective way of making it very clear you do not wish to discuss a topic, in a completely neutral way that doesn't compromise your professionalism or draw any sort of opinion out of you either way. This is, I believe, what you want.

It can be a bit socially awkward, especially in person (though less so in chat) but that is on the other person - they brought the awkward situation about and it's not your duty to rescue it and make it less embarrassing for them. In any case, something that may alleviate this in particularly awkward cases is responding immediately with your own question on a completely different topic, just to avoid silence and to divert both of your attention in a more positive direction.

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    this come as passive agressive and is generally not considered as professional. – Walfrat Jun 29 '18 at 13:41
  • @Walfrat exactly, don't be that person that just ignores someone's response. It's childish, just tell them straight up that it 'doesn't bother you' as others have suggested. At least give them an answer, it also stops them from continually messaging you about it (thinking that maybe you didn't read their original message). – Ryguy Jun 29 '18 at 14:17
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    @davnicwil maybe in a real conversation silence and a passive expression clearly shows the intention, but in a virtual one it may not be evident... Repeated requests may occur as Ryguy mentioned. – CPHPython Jun 29 '18 at 14:45
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    Good points (ignoring people's questions is unprofessional, childish, rude, confusing, etc) and they are true most of the time but, in my view, not in cases like this where the question is unsolicited, nothing to do with work, and unnecessary. I did qualify this in my answer, maybe it didn't come across that clearly. – davnicwil Jun 29 '18 at 15:03
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Honesty.

If it isn't an issue for you or you don't smell it,tell her so.

In general, it is good to stay out of interpersonal squabbles and gossip.

Is the colleague cycling to work? Good thing to tell her too.

It might even be an indication to get communal showers at work. Though that is a whole large can of worms on its own, so tread carefully if at all.

Also, don't use the colleague as an example why showers are needed. In fact, you shouldn't even be talking about getting showers if there are none, since you don't have an issue.

1

Good answers here already, though I can't help but feel one is missing: it might not be about Joe at all. Maybe she just has difficulties socialising and will use any occasion to talk (or email) you, hoping it will lead to a conversation? Maybe she would like to befriend you or she might even be in love with you? How are other interactions between you and her?

  • 1
    this reads more like a comment, see How to Answer – gnat Jun 29 '18 at 13:05
  • I feel like this answer is a comment. – user53651 Jun 29 '18 at 13:56

protected by Masked Man Jun 29 '18 at 12:52

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