a coworker anonymously left breath mints on my desk

A reader writes:

I honestly am not sure how to handle this.

I work at a small and generally friendly office. When I came into work this morning, someone had left a small box of Tic Tacs on my desk. We have a culture where people will frequently leave candy or other small gifts at people’s offices, but when I glanced at other people’s desks, no one else had Tic Tacs (and it would be a strange gift for people, anyway!).

I am usually the first or second person into the office and the second to last to leave for the day, so I have a good idea of who it may have been. I have a good relationship with those people and I’m sure if either of them left it, it was intended as a gentle way to encourage me to use Tic Tacs or something similar. I can’t be certain of who it was.

It feels incredibly painful, however. I am on medication that causes dry mouth and low appetite (both of which can cause bad breath). I am also in recovery from a severe mental health episode where frankly I let my personal hygiene slip on some days. My boss is aware of my health issue and I have FML paperwork documenting it. My coworkers are aware as I’ve had to leave the office for doctor’s appointments weekly for the past six months but I have not talked about the specific reason for them.

I would obviously prefer that whoever left this had continued to ignore the issue but, at the end of the day, would have wanted them to bring it up with me in person rather than handle it this way. Do I bring this up with my boss? Do I ask around the office to see who may have left them? Do I ignore it and bring a travel toothbrush to work?

I’m sorry — that has to really feel crappy.

This kind of anonymous thing is just so mean, whatever form it takes — anonymous notes, anonymous gifts of soap or breath mints, etc. It’s such a cowardly thing to do. People who do it may think that it’s conveying useful information, but it’s a horrible way to receive the message … and it leaves the recipient having to wonder who’s behind it, whether it’s multiple people, if they were talked about, and a bunch of other really awful things. If someone is concerned enough that they want to deliver this message, they should have the decency to talk in person. And yes, that’s hard to do, so I understand the impulse to look for another option … but this method is cruel. And avoiding cruelty should trump the desire to avoid discomfort.

As for what to do … If your coworkers are otherwise being friendly and collegial with you, it’s not really in the category of things you need to escalate to your boss. And I don’t know that there’s anything to be gained by asking around the office about it. Whoever did it presumably did it this way precisely to preserve their anonymity, so they’re probably not going to fess up when you ask, and by asking around, you end up bringing more people into it.

On the other hand, if you’re comfortable with being pretty public about the situation, you could just talk to people about it matter-of-factly and say something like, “I wanted to mention that I’m on medication that’s giving me dry mouth. I’m trying to keep it from impacting my breath, but in case it does, please know I’m aware of it and trying to keep it under control.” I don’t think you really have any obligation to say that, but it might give you some peace of mind. (It also has the side benefit of probably making the anonymous-Tic-Tac-leaver feel guilty.)

And yeah, a travel toothbrush, some gum, some mints … any of that will probably help. Sorry you’re dealing with this.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 499 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    For those struggling with the temptation to leave something anonymously: if it’s important enough to communicate, it’s important enough for you to stand behind the message.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      You’re not wrong, but I can understand wanting to squirm out of the awkwardness of telling someone they have bad breath. Not saying I support the approach, but our culture is SO bad at handling awkwardness.

      1. LadyL*

        It really is. I think it’s the root of most passive aggression. We’re taught that any kind of awkwardness or discomfort is literally THE WORST so when someone unthinkingly does something that bothers you and puts you into the position of saying, “Hey, please stop” it resonates as an aggressive, purposeful transgression in your head. And once you resent someone like that, its very difficult to feel empathy for them or to see things from their perspective, and then once that happens the whole relationship deteriorates fast. Soon anything you do to them is entirely justified, and it’s ugly.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Yeah, I feel like we don’t have a cultural mental model anymore for how polite, nonagressive confrontations are supposed to go, and I think a lot of us let it percolate until we’re so resentful and fed up that it comes across as abrasive and aggressive.

          1. fposte*

            Totally agree. I even think the changing use of the word “confrontation” is an indication of that–it’s being used for any discussion involving something negative, not just a hostile and oppositional encounter.

            FWIW, I think food and beverages are a great out for breath conversations; coffee is perfect, but you can blame just about anything.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Not for difficult conversations where the matters are personal or private.

              My parents were part of the Greatest Generation. My overall impression was that no one knew how to talk about sensitive subjects. i believe that generation suffered the consequences of not knowing how to talk with each other also. (There’s lots of fall out from that.) I think we are better now than we have ever been, which is kind of a sad commentary, given OP’s experience.

              I do take heart in the fact that we can discuss things like this on AAM and other places. I think that is an improvement. But I totally agree that we have a long way to go to get to where we should be.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            In this case I think it’s also compounded by the assumption that all bodily functions are Terribly Shameful and we must pretend they don’t exist in a business context. It’s still awkward telling a friend they’re smelly unless they’re a *very* close friend, but it’s the sort of thing you’re “allowed” to notice about them.

        2. Manders*

          Oof, this is a perfect summary of a bad pattern I’ve been trying to break in my own life. I do wish I had been taught to be honest about the small things that annoy me before descending into full BEC mode.

      2. fposte*

        I can understand it too. But then you just shut up and deal. There’s no option where you get to make it awkward for the recipient but are allowed to escape discomfort yourself.

        1. Jaguar*

          Yes, this. If you have an issue with someone else but don’t have the ability to approach them about it, your punishment is having to deal with that issue internally.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Agreed. At some point, you suck it up and cope with the awkwardness.

        3. NK*

          I really don’t know what the right answer is, but people don’t tend to handle awkwardness well on the receiving end either. While I’d be mortified either way, I don’t think I’d want to have that conversation in person. If the message had to be delivered, I’d prefer a note. Yes, the other person would get to avoid the discomfort while I had to experience it, but my discomfort would at least be somewhat lessened than having the conversation face to face. I don’t know that I’d want more discomfort just so the other person had to experience it too.

          1. Cafe au Lait*

            I had an awkward conversation face-to-face. (Asked my coworker to step out to the bathroom to pass gas). Hands down, it was the hardest conversation I’ve had with a colleague.

            While she took it “well,” I could also tell she churned it around so she became a victim. I’ve asked her to stop chewing with her mouth open, and she rolled her eyes and kept going. I became the nitpicky one, and she was the victim of my standards.

            1. Lee*

              Well, in defense for the chewing thing, there is a disorder where someone can’t stand someone’s chewing (regardless of how loud it is), but it’s usually that person’s own biases increasing the severity of it, it’s called misophonia.
              I had someone who absolutely hated me and it eventually morphed into them not being able to be around me when I chewed chips (even with headphones or earplugs, she kindly explained to me my chewing was like a hammer smashing nails into her brain).
              She had other mental issues though, but I remember holding back rolling my eyes when she told me, and making sure I always chewed loudly in her direction from then on out.

              1. Kate*

                Regular chewing and mouth open chewing are completely different. The former is okay, the latter is super rude.

            2. Zombii*

              >>I had an awkward conversation face-to-face. (Asked my coworker to step out to the bathroom to pass gas). Hands down, it was the hardest conversation I’ve had with a colleague.

              Is this a cultural thing or socioeconomic or what? I grew up in a not-wealthy part of town and went to public school and one day we had a substitute teacher who berated one of the students at length for farting in class. The phrase she kept using was “That is something you do in the bathroom only!” and I swear to god we all thought that kid had shit has pants in class because farting was not on the list of Accepted Reasons To Ask For A Bathroom Pass.

              1. (Different) Rebecca*

                I think once you’re past the age where you need to ask permission to use the bathroom, you should also be of the age to know that private bodily functions should be, well, private (to paraphrase Miss Manners). Not everyone does so, but I know I do and I prefer being around people who do.

          2. Lise*

            Same! (Sorry to respond to an old comment!) I’d rather be mortified alone with a box of mints than in front of someone telling me this.

            If someone left a note saying, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but noticed that sometimes your breath could be a little strong. Please don’t be embarrassed by this because I’m sure it’s not something that everyone has noticed, but I’ve included some mints for you, and wash for dry mouth helps, too.”

            So I guess a really gently-worded and tactful note would be in order there, not just a box of tic tacs.

        4. Shadow*

          The proliferation of social media has made it really easy for people to do this- communicate whatever you’d like with little or no consequences.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            But even on social media, you have to maintain some ownership of it. You’re protected by not being physically there, and sometimes by anonymity (although the couple usernames I use on the internet have a presence and reputations of their own!) but you still have to let the person know who is saying the nasty things.

            Notes like this don’t even have that!

        5. BRR*

          Ooh I like this, can I steal it?

          In addition to awkwardness, I think there’s also wanting to avoid a possible negative reaction. Not saying this is the case with the LW, overall it might be an issue in this type of situation.

        6. Marillenbaum*

          This is why I love Captain Awkward so much–she’s great at providing direct, clear, kind scripts for dealing with uncomfortable situations. In fact, she recently had a related post all about dealing with sweaty (and thus also smelly) dance partners. It is uncomfortable, but if you feel you really must say something, it is better to be straightforward and treat it the way you would any other sort of issue you might want to know about that is potentially embarrassing.

      3. Lissa*

        Yes! I have been so tempted to do anonymous notes, and *never have* but I so very much get the temptation. It can be justified as a kindness to both parties, i.e. they don’t have to have a conversation, but get to find out what might be causing others to want to be around them less…like there are times when I even have thought I would prefer to GET an anonymous note if I’m doing something that say, puts off a lot of people but I have no idea (a constant lurking worry for me.)

        I think Alison’s strong “no anonymous notes” thing has made me see why this is not actually a good thing to do more clearly, because it’s really easy for self-justifications to happen there.

    2. the snide one*

      A friend has dry mouth for a medical reason and we have talked about it when it’s been bad. She is generally mortified and on guard when she talks to people, which is sad to watch. I can’t imagine how awful she would feel if someone left Tic-Tacs behind (as they do very little for very long) as a solution. I know the poor dear has tried everything.

      When I asked her at first, I didn’t know. It was awkward, but I decided I would want her to tell me if reversed. She was embarrassed but thanked me, and even enlisted me in helping her before big meetings.

      As a side anecdote, the only people I’ve known who had dry mouth were cancer survivors who’d had a reaction with medications to kill the cancer. Not the OP’s position but when I look through this lens leaving the TicTacs is very cruel.

      1. FancyTitleSameJob*

        I am a 15 year survivor and this is one of the worst things that sticks around. I have had pretty good luck with Biotene.

      2. Gov Worker*

        There are other causes for dry mouth, it’s a fairly common side effect of many medications. In my case restricted fluid intake because of congestive heart failure also contributes. Sucking on ice cubes, gum (stimulates saliva production), and as previously mentioned, Biotene, are all good.

        Anonymous anything in the workplace is no good. I once had a coworker who had a revolting smell, even his clothes reeked of being unwashed for a long time. Complaints were made to the supervisor and she spoke to him directly about it. That’s what supervisors and managers are for, to deal with tough situations.

  2. Sampson*

    I probably would’ve marched around the office asking “Are these yours? Someone left them behind last week!” and wait for someone’s face to turn bright red while they brush it off.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Oooo, I wish I had the foresight to suggest something like this.

    2. Gandalf the Nude*

      I actually really like this. OP’s entitled to a little revenge squirming. I’d probably add an “I’d hate to throw away a full box if the owner was looking for them!”

    3. Jaguar*

      I was thinking similarly, albeit not quite as confrontational. Like, make a list of people it could have been and then, during a moment when it’s just the two of us, ask them, “Hey, you left those Tic-Tacs on my desk, right?” If they say yes, then just explain the situation with the medical issue and apologise if my breath is causing problems. Let the person know that even if they’re going to handle the situation like a child, I’m going to force them to address it like an adult anyway, so they might as well start like that next time.

    4. Lana Kane*

      I completely agree, this is something I would do. It might be somewhat passive aggressive, but it’s not being rude or accusatory or hurtful if you do it in a very normal, matter-of-fact way.

      I might linger at the suspect’s desk for an extra couple of seconds, though, asking if they’re sure. :D

    5. Inportant Moi*

      I think the only things that would happen are:

      1 – the “culprit” would lie
      2 – if I were another co-worker who didn’t know you had bad breath, I would know now.
      3 – As a co-worker I would reduce my interactions with you, without any announcement, may not speak to you at all.

      All this because I find your reaction needlessly aggressive

      1. Taylor Swift*

        Yep, I agree with all of those things. I don’t think this would be a good way to handle it.

      2. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, that kind of aggressive defensiveness is exactly why I would find myself slipping into doing something anonymously. If the situation is unpleasant enough that someone feels the need to address it, adding anger, hurt feelings, or an argument with it just makes it worse. Like, the OP may choose not to use the Tic-Tacs; but it would be worse if she started yelling at me or crying and then refused to use the Tic-Tacs. It would be a ton of personal drama that would alter that relationship — and still no breath mints. Not worth it. Just slipping an anonymous pack of mints sends that message without the face-to-face drama, and then the OP can decide how to deal with it privately.

        I’m not saying it’s not cowardly, because it totally is. But I see the appeal in that approach.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        1) Of course the person is going to lie. Calling them on it is the point.
        2) They would have figured out that someone had bad breath anyway, this just speeded up their learning.
        3) Okay, you do what you have to do. I know that as a supervisor, if I have a subordinate who refuses to speak to a cohort we would have to have a chat about how communicating with others is part of the job. Failure to communicate is failure to the job. This does not mean random conversation but all work related conversation should remain intact.

        Asking people if they left their Tic-Tacs behind is needlessly aggressive?

        Not so sure about that. As an isolated incident it was rude and cowardly. If it’s an incident in a line of a series of incidents then it’s bullying.

        I think people have the right to stand up for themselves. The rule of thumb I have use is if you can’t say it to a person’s face then you should leave it alone. This also means gossiping to others, just don’t. The person who left the Tic-Tacs opened the door for others to ask, “who left the Tic Tacs?”.

    6. Lissa*

      I don’t think that would be helpful – not everybody reacts to that sort of thing by having their face turn red or another obvious sign, and it also kind of drags in everybody else in a passive-aggressive way.

      I *do* think it would be fine to approach one on one the people you think it might be and just straight up ask them “Did you leave these on my desk?” and then mention the medical situation.

    7. Meddling Little Belgian*

      I apologize if this was already addressed, but does the OP know the mints were left deliberately? I only ask because I set small things (mints, pens, gum, sunglasses, etc…) down when I am distracted and then have no idea where I left them. Heck, I left a full soda behind at work just today and only remembered it when I was halfway home.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        I was thinking along these lines too. Also, OP do you by any chance use Tic Tacs? I sometimes give coworkers small items and candy if I get it in a deal at the store or with a magazine and know that they eat/use them.

    8. Rachel*

      I would think, hmm, how strange it is that this person is expending so much energy looking for the owner of a box of Tic Tacs. I would also wonder if this was really about Tic Tacs.

  3. Zip Silver*

    That’s really shitty, OP. I’m sorry that you got one of those anonymous “hints”. I’ve got dry mouth as well, and I had somebody bring it up to my face (which was quite embarrassing) and I’ve found that chewing gum helps a lot. It gets the saliva swishing around.

    1. Gen*

      I know we shouldn’t give medical advice here but having had dry mouth specifically from meds it might be worth talking to your dentist or checking the medication packaging because some ‘solutions’ like gum and mints could cause more problems in the long run for your teeth and breath. They might react differently than you would expect (just for example I was brushing more often to deal with it and actually took half my enamel off because there was more acid due to the meds).

    2. Fishcakes*

      I’ve developed dry mouth in the past few weeks. I have no idea how to deal with it (I can’t chew gum) so I’ve been drinking a lot of water and using breath mints and mouthwash. I would feel really discouraged and self-conscious if someone left tic tacs on my desk.

      1. Zip Silver*

        Sucking on something helps too, some sort of hard candy or a peppermint. Tictacs don’t really do much against it, though.

      2. JAM*

        Biotene mouthwash was a huge help for me when I went through chemo a decade ago. During the day I constantly drank water and sucked on lifesavers or mints to help. Honestly I didn’t care about the other people, just my own comfort level.

        1. kitryan*

          My mom has dry mouth/eyes/etc issues due to a chronic condition and she uses the Biotene mouthwash and spray. I believe it helps her and I think it was recommended either by her Dr or dentist.
          I sometimes have some similar issues due to allergy/sinus problems and I always hope that I’m not being the irritating co-worker to others.

          1. LavaLamp*

            I have dry mouth issues myself and while biotine worked well for that it made my breath worse. Definitely talk you your dentist.

      3. Wendy Darling*

        Ask your dentist if they can recommend or give you anything! I’m on a medication that can cause dry mouth and when my dentist found out he told me to let him know if I developed it and he could give me a special mouthwash that would help. I didn’t end up with dry mouth, though, so I don’t have a specific recommendation.

        1. TM*

          My dentist recommended a product called “Theramints” for my dry mouth. They’re sugar free and you can get a huge bottle of them on Amazon. The peppermint ones taste like mild altoids and the fruit flavored ones taste like Smarties. They’ve worked fabulously for me.

    3. John Jones*

      One thing I’ve heard for temporary relief is to use a tongue scraper or brush your tongue as far back as you can when brushing your teeth. As someone who doesn’t like to chew gum I make sure I brush my tongue each morning to help get over the dreaded morning breath.

      1. Artemesia*

        Yes the really bad clear a room breath is most often caused by bacteria on the back of the tongue that produces sulfur compounds; it is very gross. And anyone can have this from time to time and if they don’t brush the back of the tongue toothbrushing is not enough. It is more common when you have dry mouth from other things.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Oh, OP, I’m so sorry. This is so mean-spirited and cruel in such a middle-school way. I’m going to ask something a little weird, not to minimize your experience but to seek context. In the past, have any candy givers gifted a coworker mints of any sort? For example, I’m a mint-fiend, which my coworkers know. They’re much more likely to give me wint-o-green lifesavers to altoids, for example, than anything else (although I would be suspicious if they gave me tic tacs—which I also love—or Certs). So I’m wondering if this was a non-breath-related gift that someone botched.

    Assuming the mints were meant as a comment on your breath—which is seriously so so rude and the more likely scenario—I don’t think you owe anyone an explanation re: your breath. If you wanted to speak to a few coworkers with whom you’re close, you could share that you have a medical condition that affects your breath. Or, if you know who did it, you could confront them (this doesn’t have to be dramatic or intense, but I think adults should be called on this kind of bullshit).

    But I’m so sorry :(

    1. The IT Manager*

      I don’t think this was done with the purpose to be cruel or mean-spirited. To me, cruel or mean-spirited would be joking about it and talking about it behind the LW’s back.

      OTOH this perspective is why if you want to tell someone something like this, you should either tell them with your name attached (to their face) or not say anything at all. This has all the hallmarks of someone wanting to convey potentially embarrassing information to help the LW, but choosing the cowardly way to do it. It’s less awkward for the teller and the LW is spared an embarrassing conversation but there’s so many other negative feelings dredged up for the receiver and the wondering of who did it.

      1. Amy*

        Things can be cruel without the person doing them having meant to be cruel. Intentions aren’t a magic balm to erase the actual impact of our actions.

        1. msmorlowe*

          I would argue then that the cruelty lies in the thoughtlessness and not necessarily the overt intention. Like, neglecting a dependent is a form of cruelty no matter the reason for the neglect.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Folks: Can we leave aside whether this is cruel/mean-spirited and focus on the OP’s letter? I’m getting frustrated that folks are spending the majority of their time talking about my word choices instead of the substance of my comment or the substance of OP’s letter.

      3. 11P*

        In my experience, people who would anonymously leave mints are probably also talking behind people’s backs. I was in a similar situation once, and the people involved seemed to be certain I had no idea they were behind it or that I heard them talking about me/knew they were talking about me.

        It was incredibly hurtful and painful. And I realize I shouldn’t attribute motives to people I know nothing about, but my experience really colors my thoughts on it.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I don’t see it as mean-spirited and cruel. It’s embarrassing for OP, of course, but I think the person was probably more trying to avoid the awkwardness of embarrassing someone to their face than trying to be deliberately and gratuitously mean.

      1. fposte*

        This is a great illustration of why it doesn’t mitigate the discomfort for the recipient. So it is, IMHO, pretty darn craven.

        1. Emi.*

          Only if the person thought it would be this bad for the recipient, and there are people downthread saying that if they had bad breath, they would prefer being “told” like this to being told to their faces. So that might help the OP feel less picked on. :)

        2. Jayn*

          It could also inadvertently make the recipient look worse to the giver if it seems like the “hint” was ignored when a) they may not have understood the meaning or, in this case, b) it’s not easily addressed and now the recipient has lost a good opportunity to explain that to the giver, making it more awkward if they’re willing to be that open.

      2. Gandalf the Nude*

        I think mean-spirited is probably the wrong sentiment, but cruel is still on. The former requires some amount of intent, but someone can be cruel even when they mean well. And I say this not to nitpick language, but because it can be important for OP to keep that perspective in mind: that it’s okay to be hurt regardless of the person’s intentions. Some folks find ignorance easier to deal with than malice, but not everyone, and we shouldn’t minimize those folks’ feelings.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I guess I should have said “mean” instead of mean-spirited? Regardless of the intention, this is absolutely an unkind thing to do, no matter how well-intentioned the coworker that did it may have intended it to be.

      4. kitryan*

        The problem I have with anonymity in this sort of context is that it can create a sense of being unsafe (from being judged or talked about) in the work place. I’ve been in a work environment where I knew that someone was talking about me behind my back but I didn’t know who or why. I felt like I couldn’t relax at work and was over analyzing every interaction. This would give me a lesser version of that feeling, whereas if someone were to simply say ‘Looks like you could use a mint’ and offered you one with a friendly smile or laugh (presuming they were on good terms with you generally), it would just blow over with minimal embarrassment- at least it would for me as either party.

    3. Not Alison*

      I agree with those who don’t think it was mean-spirited or cruel. And knowing that the person has a medical condition causing bad breath doesn’t help me if I’m the one who is in target range of that bad breath. What would help is if the person with the bad breath was able to seek medical/dental advice on what the best way to handle it was – – – and then actually do what the medical/dental person said would help with the problem.

      Maybe I’m weird, but I would rather receive the mints anonymously than have a person come up to me and tell me I had bad breath (or BO or whatever). If a person other than my manager made it their business to embarrass me in that way (even if done kindly), then I would likely go out of my way to avoid that person whenever possible.

      1. fposte*

        I think it’s advisable just to assume people are doing their best unless you have information to the contrary, given how often stuff like this *isn’t* fixable with simple dental advice.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          It’s probably best for general mental health to also assume the note leaving types are honestly trying to help.

          It doesn’t make it the right decision, but they deserve the benefit of the doubt too. People are awkward and everyone does not-great things.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, that’s a fair point. But this is like awkward guys approaching women at work–we can assume their interest is honest, but it doesn’t excuse them from the impact of their awkwardness.

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              For sure, and it doesn’t mean you have to go out with them or put up with it, in any way.

              But it’s good for the recipient’s mental health (everyone, not just the OP), if they can, to figure it’s just awkwardness instead of malice, WHILE still shutting it down, at least as the first step. If it was something more, that normally becomes pretty obvious.

        2. Kate*

          Except a lot of people have posted on here about how they spoke to a coworker or, as I’ve seen on other sites, a relative or friend, and that person genuinely didn’t know and was grateful to be told. People get used to what they are familiar with, people honestly don’t smell their own smells. So I think it is actually kind to assume people don’t know, and gently say something to them if you know them fairly well.

          In addition, there are people who can’t smell, or smell very well. As one of the latter, I am careful with my hygiene, with my personal hygiene, my laundry, and my home, and I tell people who know to please, please tell me if I or any of my things smell. It’s much better to be told, than to go for weeks, months, or longer and then find out, because people were too “nice” to tell you, anonymously or otherwise.

          1. Get out the calendar*

            I am shocked at all the pain and cruelty these comments are feeling.

            What would be preferred? That OP be called out in public? I am assuming the coworker did it to be helpful. I have worked with people who have terrible bad breath and it makes you really want to avoid interacting with them. Whatever the cause, OP is not absolved of having bad breath — and there’s nothing more to do than take the hint and move on.

      2. Ashie*

        I’m with you, I would prefer an embarrassing note to an embarrassing in-person conversation. And regardless of the reason, the problem exists.

      3. Anna*

        I didn’t realize someone having bad breath could “target” you. If you’re thinking of it like that, you’re probably taking it far too personally. It’s not something they’re doing TO you.

          1. Not Alison*

            Yes, I just meant being in the range of the person’s breath. Thank you Sadsack for understanding my comment.

      4. jules*

        ok, i was starting to think that i was some kind of a weirdo because i’d totally prefer to receive mints rather than have someone tell me to my face. i’m glad it’s not just me!

        1. kab*

          Me, too. I’d prefer the hint than someone telling me my breath stinks. At least the hint allows me to save face.

        2. Get out the calendar*

          No not weird. These commenters are wildly sensitive. If someone had confronted OP in person and told them honestly “Hey your breath often smells, would you like a mint?” I’m sure OP would be writing in on whether to escalate that to her boss as well.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t mean to be unkind, but this sounds like it’s more about you than anything else. And I’m a little surprised that someone sharing that there’s a medical reason is insufficient for you. It’s not like someone is actively “targeting” you with their bad breath, and they’re probably aware and uncomfortable of its existence. I don’t see how anonymously trolling them about it is virtuous or kind.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Well, there is and isn’t a medical reason. There is a medical reason *now* — but the OP also said that there was an extended period where she just didn’t take care of normal hygiene. If I’m a cube-mate, I have no way of knowing whether this is medical or whether Jane just doesn’t brush regularly (or both) and in a sense, it doesn’t matter. It is an issue.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m not opposed to raising the issue—I just think folks have to be careful about their expectations and the method of how they raise it. There are plenty of people (as evidenced throughout this thread) who would prefer an anonymous note or mints left at their desk. But based on OP’s reaction, it sounds like they would have preferred getting this feedback in a different way.

            But even if OP does everything humanly possible, if there’s still an odor issue, then what’s the next step? And how much does OP have to disclose to their coworkers before they’re satisfied that OP “did something” about the problem, even if there’s no resolution of the underlying problem?

      6. Stellaaaaa*

        Thing is, OP’s coworkers don’t know about the health problems, by OP’s own admission. They only know that she has left early for appointments. Coworkers can’t factor in medical concerns when OP has not discussed them with anyone besides management.

        1. C*

          Even if they didn’t know for sure that she had a health problem, I think it’s always good to keep the possibility in mind that someone could have an invisible disability that’s affecting the behavior or state of being that one is objecting to.

      7. michelenyc*

        I agree. Unless you are a good friend or family member I would rather something like that be done anonymously.

        1. Jessica*

          But if it’s anonymous, you won’t know if it was a friend or family member…

      8. ChocolateBrownie*

        I agree: it’s a no win situation, this is tough for the OP but it’s also tough to be in close range with someone whose breath is especially bad for a significant period of time, especially during work when you can’t always get away. I’ve known people with breath so bad I physically had to turn away from them and no amount of friendly hints or offering gum or saying ‘let’s brush our teeth!’ (In the case of a romantic partner) seemed to achieve anything other than a ‘I’m good thanks!’

        For the sake of the many (including OP, who I’m sure doesn’t want people avoiding him or her or feeling sick around them if it’s that severe) this issue needs addressing: the question in hand is how.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I agree that it should be addressed if it’s causing people distress and discomfort! What I’m really asking is—how much must OP do to satisfy coworkers?

          If OP speaks to a doctor or dentist, brushes frequently, uses mints religiously or chews mint gum, and there’s literally nothing more they can do and their breath still smells bad, then what’s the next step? Because it sounds like we’re near the end of reasonable options for OP, and at some point, OP’s coworkers have to decide how they’re going to deal with someone who has exhausted all options.

          1. ChocolateBrownie*

            Do we know that the OP is doing all of that regularly? I didn’t see that they’d seen a dentist or doc about the dry mouth side effect or doubled down on their oral hygiene.

            If someone’s breath is that bad, and nothing they can do will ameliorate it, I suppose the company would have to go down the route of trying to accommodate them to do their job while protecting others from being affected. Working a little way away from others, reducing client contact and so forth? But I really can’t see that the OP is anywhere near that stage!

              1. sunny-dee*

                Um, yeah it does if it’s reasonable. I feel for the OP because this is an obviously uncomfortable issue for her, but it is also uncomfortable and unpleasant for others. It’s no different than someone who has an allergy sitting next to someone who wears strong perfume or sitting in a room with someone with BO or flatulence or someone eating smelly food at their cube. If the OP can address this, then she should. If it really is an intractable problem, it’s not unreasonable to see if there is some kind of accommodation for someone who is having a difficult time with the smells.

                1. fposte*

                  No, it really doesn’t, unless you have a weird contract of some kind that includes it. You can *ask* for that, sure, but it’s not a duty of the job. Same as with the microwaving of fish–your job doesn’t owe you protection from that either.

                  Allergies are a different issue because we get into ADA stuff there, but absent that none of this is a right, or something we’re owed. It’s just how we work out sharing space with other people.

                2. sunny-dee*

                  Well, not in a legal sense, which is where I think you’re going, but a lot of places do try to limit smelly foods or outright ban colognes because they are trying to make the environment as pleasant as possible.

                  If the OP has poor hygiene or other issues which are making it unpleasant for people to work around her, then, yeah, the manager can and should do something at some point. There have been threads where people were going to quit because of bodily odors or because someone was using essential oils to treat migraines (I think). It may not be a legally-imposed duty, but it’s kind of a thing that managers do, to balance the needs of their employees and make as pleasant an environment as possible.

                3. fposte*

                  @sunny-dee–I mean they also don’t owe you in the ethical sense. I’m drawing what seems like a big line to me and might not be to everybody else here :-). I definitely appreciate jobs that say “No fish microwaving” and it makes sense for an employer to put policies in place if it’s going to make life more pleasant.

                  But they don’t owe us that, and it’s not our right to have an employer that does that. We will always be exposed to unpleasant stuff at work and elsewhere, and discomfort isn’t a sign of somebody failing at their duty.

          2. fposte*

            Yes, I’m having similar thoughts. I think it’s okay to alert somebody to a breath problem, but that’s not the same thing as requiring that it go away. The OP a few months back with the farting/belching problem was advised to mitigate, not to make sure it never happened. The OP has already mitigated, so it likely is what it is for now.

            1. sunny-dee*

              I’m sorry, where does the OP say she’s done anything to mitigate? I see that she’s aware of the problem, but not that she’s doing anything (like mouthwash) right now to address it.

              1. fposte*

                I was reading the OP as saying “let” in the past tense, but it’s possible you’re right and she means she’s still behindhand there.

                1. OP*

                  It was past tense. I don’t want to be off-topic or defensive, and I understand that commentators are focusing on this as I brought it up in the initial letter myself, but I’ve been working hard to get to a place where that isn’t an issue as I know it affects other people and other people’s perceptions of me.

                2. OP*

                  Also, just noting that I’m referring to hygenie as obviously the bad breath is an issue. Sorry for
                  any confusion from my previous comment.

              2. Aeryn Sun*

                Since the dry mouth causing the bad breath is itself caused by a medication I’m not sure how much OP COULD do. Assuming that the condition aided by the medication is bigger than the bad breath, I’d say it’s safe to assume that the dry mouth was an understood side effect. And since the bad breath is caused by dry mouth, it’s hard to imagine going to the dentist or something like that would help.

          3. WellRed*

            But the OP admits to having let hygiene slip, in addition to a medical problem, and then asks “Do I ignore it and bring a toothbrush to work.” So yeah, it’s on the OP to take some steps to mitigate. I do think the anonymous letter is unfortunate and I am sorry OP has to deal with all this.

    4. Jj*

      I don’t think it’s remotely cruel or mean or childish – it’s a very kind and discreet way of alerting someone to an obvious problem.

      I’m surprised the peanut gallery are so supportive of someone admitting they have poor hygiene in the work place.

      Very curious what the response would be if someone wrote a letter saying, “A colleague smells due to bad hygiene and it’s affecting my work and affecting clients – what do I do?” I bet people would be suggesting discreetly leaving mints.

      1. Amy*

        We’ve had those topics before, and the response has been to either talk to the person (or give feedback to their manager so their manager can talk to them about it) if it’s a big deal, or to ignore it if it’s a minor thing not worth discussing.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah — the few times that I can recall someone suggesting leaving something anonymously, it’s been pretty roundly condemned, for the reasons here.

        2. Gandalf the Nude*

          Yes, overwhelmingly the advice on this topic has been to be direct but compassionate, for all the reasons we’ve pointed out here.

          Having a conversation also gives you the opportunity to position the two of you as a team solving a problem rather than you being the adversary. It was dress code, not odor, but I had the awkward “hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but your shirts are really sheer and your bra is visible” conversation with someone once. It was not nearly as painful as you’d expect, and the employee trusted me more afterward. But if I’d left an anonymous note or something, I’m sure she’d have felt harassed.

        3. Jessesgirl72*

          I would suggest that just because there was a massive pile on, doesn’t mean it’s the definitive answer, though.

          If a subject comes up, and 100 people are roundly condemning it, the person who disagrees isn’t always going to speak up, especially when there is no way of knowing that there are 200 people who totally agree with them.

          And sometimes there are some reversals in the comments- one week everyone is seemingly against something, and the next time the subject comes up, the tide goes the other way.

          The opinion of the loudest and most confident isn’t necessarily the way the majority feels.

          So people need to use their best judgement in pretty much all issues, taking into account the what messages (pro or con any subject) are shared here.

          And I say that as someone who would not appreciate an anonymous note like this, or ever send one!

          1. Amy*

            I mean, it’s true that anything said here might not be the definitive answer. There will always be people who disagree, there may be a reasonably large number of them, that’s the nature of this being advice rather than arithmetic. But the question posed was what the response would be if someone wrote into this site asking for advice on handling a coworker’s hygiene issue, and we do know what advice on this site has been, because those letters have happened before.

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              My point is that on any given subject, you’re only hearing the opinions of the loudest and/or the ones who got to the blog first. That may not be how the majority of people really feel.

              So listen to what others have to say, but still make your own decisions, and don’t use “But on AAM, the answer was overwhelmingly X!” as proof of anything other than on AAM, the opinion was overwhelmingly X- then. :)

              1. (another) b*

                OMG YES, agreed. You often see the loudest voices in these comments – I hope all OPs look past them and get a sense of the comments as a whole.

          2. Augusta Sugarbean*

            Agreed, Jessesgirl72. When I see a conversation here going one direction and I disagree, I don’t even bother to comment with a dissenting opinion. There just doesn’t seem to be any point.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        How on earth is this “kind and discreet”? If someone had B.O., would you leave deodorant on their desk? That approach is humiliating and unkind, and it’s cowardly. People have written in with the question you posited, and in the past, the overwhelming advice is to: (1) let it go if it’s not a huge problem; (2) directly raise it with th coworker in a kind way; or (3) speak to your manager for advice/help. People certainly suggest being passive-aggressive by doing something like leaving mints, but the commentariat typically does not support those kinds of approaches.

        And OP has not said they have poor hygiene—they said there was a period of time where this was a factor, but independent of that, even with good hygiene they have a medical condition that exacerbates bad breath. To suggest otherwise is attacking and judgmental, and misconstrues what was said in order to support a really nasty “solution.”

        1. fposte*

          And it’s just smelly breath. We’ve all had smelly breath when we didn’t realize it, every one of us, I promise you all, even the non-coffee-drinkers and smokers.

          (Then there’s the fact that I hate mint and would rather smell coffee breath, but that’s too much of outlier opinion to factor in here.)

          1. Marillenbaum*

            Oh, that’s interesting! I always live in fear of coffee-breath, lest I turn into my high school drama coach who swore at us in Yiddish and always called me by a nickname that I hated.

            1. fposte*

              I love the way you’ve set that sentence up, like once you get coffee breath it’s inevitable that Yiddish swearing will follow :-).

          2. ChocolateBrownie*

            I’m pretty confident that the OP’s breath had to be significantly smelly for a significant period of time (they mentioned medical issues) for someone to get to the point of actually leaving mints. I don’t mean to make the OP feel worse but I can’t imagine a few occasions of coffee breath were enough for this response.

            It’s also not ‘just smelly breath’ if someone’s breath is so bad that it’s causing immense discomfort to others who are around and can’t necessarily leave their work area. As I mentioned upthread I’ve experienced breath so bad before I couldn’t face the person without gagging. I’m sure mint isn’t toothpaste fresh all the time, nobody’s is, but chronic bad breath around other people is an issue that needs addressing.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, but even if it’s a longer problem, smelling is just a thing bodies do; smell/not smell really isn’t the border between civilization and chaos.

              And while I think that it’s good if people can address an issue like chronic bad breath and I might have a word with a report to see if options were being explored on that front, I don’t know that I’d go as far as “needs addressing.” Sometimes it won’t be addressed, and we still have to deal.

              1. ChocolateBrownie*

                Smelling to such an extent that it makes others feel physically sick or is intolerable to the majority of people is not a stage that means others just ‘need to deal’. Nobody is bemoaning coffee breath, mild BO towards the end of a sweltering day or the occasional silent fart.

                1. ChocolateBrownie*

                  Reply to Alison, can’t see how to reply to your post directly: yes I know, I’m not intending to imply that the OP’s problem is so bad it makes others sick, my comment was in response to fposte saying smelling is just a thing bodies do as though that means the OP’s issue isn’t one that needs addressing, I was trying to convey that while there are levels of bodily smells that are unpleasant but fine, some are so bothersome that they absolutely do need addressing. Not that the OP’s problem is necessarily there yet.

                  Sorry I wasn’t clear.

          3. Turquoise Cow*

            I also hate the taste of mint. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s not a fan.

            Also, maybe I have a less than super sensitive nose, but the only people whose breath ever bothered me were people who were about to kiss me. Coworkers? Never.

        2. Avocado Toast*

          If I had BO, would I rather arrive at my desk in the morning to find a free stick of deodorant discreetly placed on my desk, which avoids the embarrassment and confrontation of directly being told I stink, or would I rather be called into my manager’s office for a private chat (with all the stress that entails in general), only to be humiliated and told I smell bad enough that it warranted a formal discussion?

          I think people are mixing up what they believe, ideally, is the logical and honest route (the moral high ground, if you will), vs. how they would actually respond when placed in such a scenario (when you are directly confronted with a judgment of your cleanliness, and all the emotions and indignities therein).

      3. Yorick*

        I think an anonymous note could be worded so that it’s kind and understanding – although I do understand the advice against using them. But anonymously leaving mints seems mean, like saying “you need a breath mint, smelly!”

    5. caryatis*

      I don’t understand why people think this is cruel. Yes, the OP with bad breath feels bad, but they probably would feel bad having to have the conversation in person too. I’d much rather get an anonymous message.

      And OP–talk to your dentist! There may be something more that can be done. You don’t want your office reputation to be “great person, but don’t sit next to them, they stink!”

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s cruel because it’s humiliating, unkind, and designed to shame (even if the giver’s underlying intentions were virtuous).

        1. Not Alison*

          It is NOT designed to shame. It is designed to have the person whose breath is not pleasant to do something so that when we are required to be near them because we need to interact with them for work that we can smell something pleasant not odorous.

          What is wrong with you that you feel the need to force your opinion on all commenters? Why can’t we each have an opinion that disagrees with yours. Oh, maybe I’m missing the obvious. Someone did this to you and you feel shamed by it. If so, I’m sorry that your preferred way to receive the message is inperson and someone did it anonymously. But please understand that some of us DO NOT prefer the inperson method and we do not feel that the anonymous is cruel.

            1. Ramona Flowers*

              Me too. And really I just don’t think there is one objectively right way to feel.

              1. Momonga*

                “nd really I just don’t think there is one objectively right way to feel.”

                This is a very important and overlooked point. As humans we love to put things in a box, to make something clearly right or wrong – when in reality, context is important and many things are pretty solidly in a grey area.

                1. Laura*

                  Absolutely – I too would prefer the mints on the desk. In fact if I got them I would announce generally to the people around me that I got the hint and would suck mints regularly from them on and that, if my breath ponged in future, to please tell me! I am only speaking for myself here and really agree with the commenters who are pushing back on others who seem to be imposing ‘one objectively right way to feel’ on the rest of us.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Not Alison, I can see I hit a nerve for you, and I’m sorry for that. I have *feelings* about your personal attacks, but I’m going to address your primary concerns, instead.

            I’m arguing for the platinum rule—to treat people as they ask to be treated, not to impose your personal preferences for how to deal with a situation on others.

            I’m raising the issue because I think it’s important for people who prefer anonymity to understand that what they see as a preferred or more kind response is not always that for others. While you may prefer something subtle and indirect, like what happened here, that kind of approach can be really anxiety- and paranoia-inducing for others. And it can unintentionally be cruel when, as here, OP’s breath is impacted by something beyond their control (medical treatment). How awful would you feel if you picked on someone for something that they have little to no power to change? And how awful would they feel if they received an anonymous “hint” about a problem they already know they have and can do little to change?

            I think reasonable minds can differ on how they wish to be approached, and I’m not arguing that everyone should share my opinion. But the OP did not wish to be approached anonymously, and the result has been harmful to them in a way that outweighs whatever discomfort OP’s coworkers are experiencing. This is not some kind of active assault on OP’s coworkers—it’s an uncomfortable situation that makes OP feel self-conscious about an issue over which they have limited control.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I should clarify. When I said “not impose your personal preferences,” I did not mean you, personally. I mean “your” in the general sense.

              1. sunny-dee*

                What you seem to be missing is that other people feel exactly like you described about being addressed in person. That seems needlessly cruel, paranoia-inducing, and like an attack. You seem to think that we all have the ability to magically realize that one person prefers one method of communication and if we don’t do that perfect thing, it’s because we’re malicious and cruel. Well, no — it could just be that the coworker had no idea what the OP would prefer or how to address this, and they did what they thought was the kindest thing. They obviously got it wrong in the OP’s case. What were they supposed to do — ask the OP if they preferred an anonymous note about an embarrassing issue?

                And note — this isn’t something the OP *can’t* change. This is something she can improve — being more conscientious in her daily hygiene and bringing a toothbrush or mouthwash to work. These are things she hasn’t not done before, but that she said she *could* do.

                We’re not perfect. The coworker (presumably) unintentionally hurt the OP when they were trying to do something discreet. We can assume good intent here because the OP says everyone is friendly with her and they overall have good relationships. With that, the OP was informed of an embarrassing personal hygiene issue; the OP has some ideas on how to mitigate it in ways that she was not previously.

                This is something they can all move past.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I’m not saying any of that, though. I realize that some people find a direct conversation to be much more stressful/painful. And I’m not calling anyone who uses indirect communication malicious or cruel—I’m simply saying that that was the practical effect on OP and that that can be the effect on others, as well. I think people can have the best, most generous, kindest intentions in the world and still cause hurt, and that seems to be what happened, here.

                  I’m not suggesting mind-reading, but I do think it’s worth asking people how they want to be addressed. I do it with almost everyone I know (friends, coworkers, reports, colleagues, extended family). Of course I don’t say, “hey, I have something awkward to ask you—should I send you a note?” But I do ask about communication preferences because I think it’s important to mitigate communication forms that would make someone feel paranoid or attacked (and of course, I still get this wrong!). Maybe I’m wrongly projecting my expectations onto other commenters.

                  I feel like folks are really taking my comments as personal attacks on their character. I do not mean it that way at all. It’s given me something to reflect upon, so thank you.

                2. Lissa*

                  sunny-dee, I agree with a lot of what you have said here. The thing is that when you have a group of people that would prefer A and another group that would prefer B, no matter what approach you take, it’s going to be the wrong one with *somebody*. I have encountered this in a ton of situations. And people often assume that their non-preferred approach is either shared by most people (sometimes it is) or that it’s more ‘objectively’ bad because it caused harm, without realizing their own preferred approach can also cause harm. “Intent is not magic’, yes, fine, I get that, but it also does *matter*, and in a case like this there’s no way to ahead of time know what the person’s preferred approach would be for most people.

                  This website has made me reconsider my preference for notes overall because I think there is often a generally socially “accepted” way to do things and people who have the opposite preference kind of..realize that they are an outlier so it’s likely not bad intent that makes others do the thing that hurts them, and I think anonymous notes may fall into that category, where it’s less overall accepted and generally not seen as “good”. (And I’ve never sent or received a note, just kind of privately wish there was a way to magically know what I’m doing to upset others if I can mitigate it)

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              How awful would you feel if you picked on someone for something that they have little to no power to change? And how awful would they feel if they received an anonymous “hint” about a problem they already know they have and can do little to change?

              The question is, how would any of this context have changed if the mint-leaver had addressed it with her personally instead? OP still would’ve felt demoralized realizing that someone else has noticed their bad breath, and there’s still little they can do to change it. Now they just have to deal with an in-person conversation about it (and potentially feel pressured to convey some private health information).

              I’m not saying the way it was done was right; I’m just saying that I don’t think the anonymous version is any more inherently cruel than doing it in person, nor do I think the in-person version solves any of the problems.

              1. Amy*

                The follow-up is really different.

                Scenario 1: Anonymous mints. The giver probably doesn’t know it’s due to a medical condition, and will likely be frustrated when it continues to be a problem. The receiver now feels paranoid about breathing near any of their coworkers, since they don’t know who was bothered by it and have no way to respond or explain. Everyone has to tolerate the bad breath, and there are a lot of additional feelings and reactions floating around on top of that.

                Scenaro 2: Conversation. The giver talks to the receiver. The receiver has a chance to explain that it’s due to a medical condition that they’re doing their best to manage. The giver now understands that this might not go away (and can follow up with their own manager to get accommodations if they really can’t stand it, or accept that it will exist if it’s not that big a deal). The receiver knows who was bothered by it and that they understand the situation. Everyone still has to tolerate the bad breath, but the only lingering emotion is the ‘wow, that was an awkward conversation, glad it’s over’, which is probably a net improvement on both sides.

                1. kitryan*

                  Totally agree with this. The difference between not knowing and wondering and worrying versus a momentary embarrassment that hopefully goes away with the resumption of normal, friendly interaction.
                  Like others have said, sometimes, once there’s a conversation about it, the receiver may even be able to check with the giver to see if things are better to get feedback, since it’s tough to notice your own breath.

        2. Avocado Toast*

          “It’s cruel because it’s humiliating, unkind, and designed to shame (even if the giver’s underlying intentions were virtuous).”

          Do you think that confronting the person directly would be *less* “humiliating, unkind, and designed to shame”? I patently disagree it is any of those things – it’s meant to be a polite hint to adjust behavior, even if it is misguided and ill-informed (considering OP’s medical situation).

          But I’m struggling to see how directly coming up to somebody and – however you couch it – telling them “your breath stinks” is somehow more dignified, sensitive, or compassionate.

          It’s an all-around uncomfortable discussion to have, period. Removing the face-to-face exposure and criticism factor makes it somewhat less uncomfortable, imho.

    6. Stellaaaaa*

      It’s rough from all sides. We’ve seen letters from people whose coworkers have smelled bad and objectively noting that (and wanting to solve the problem) isn’t a cruel thought process. OP has not disclosed her illness to her coworkers, and she admits that she had a phase of lapsed hygiene recently. Her coworkers are not out of line for not wanting to deal with someone else’s body odors all day long. They were, however, out of line by handling it the way they did.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        This is such a fair, clear-sighted rendering of the issue. Nobody was out of line for wanting things, simply for how they decided to go about it.

    7. Artemesia*

      What is the correct way to bring up poor oral hygiene or other issues that cause bad breath? Seriously bad breath is seriously difficult to live or work around. Very bad breath can literally permeate an office. The OP knows that she has let hygiene slip and that she also has dry mouth which leads to bad breath. I would assume she would be brushing her teeth and tongue a couple of times a day at work and using appropriate mouth washes and whatever else would correct the problem.

      Would she really rather that someone discussed this with her? I can see this as harassment if done repeatedly to someone who doesn’t have this issue, but when someone has very bad breath there is no graceful way to alert them to the problem. Mints on the desk seems no worse than any other way I can think of.

      If the problem is bad enough to elicit mints as a hint then it needs to be aggressively addressed — not ‘who left the mints’ but rather stepping up the effort to not offend.

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        This is why I am confused, too. I am generally a direct but non-confrontational person, and I would have much rather a co-worker leave a box of mints on my desk than come to me directly and say “Prime, I know it’s awkward to say this but your breath stinks. Please come up with a solution for that, because I can’t work with the smell.”

        In fact, this gentle way is how I have been interacted with in the past when I have regular bad breath – someone will kindly, gently, firmly offer me a piece of gum without a comment. It’s less awkward for both of us, in my experience.

    8. Optimistic Prime*

      This is the thing I am confused about. I don’t think that putting the box of Tic-Tacs on the desk was a good approach at all. But how is it “mean-spirited and cruel” to leave the Tic-Tacs but not to have a direct conversation about it? Annoying and childish, I could see, but not cruel.

      1. Lissa*

        I think it’s cruel if you think about it in a junior high kind of way, where the tic-tac leaver is not doing this to avoid an awkward conversation about bad breath and trying to give a gentle hint, but is doing it as a form of mockery, like leaving Clearasil on the desk of someone with acne. I feel like with adults the former is *more likely* to be the case though, but the ambiguity is one reason why part of me prefers anonymous notes, but the bigger part of me agrees that it’s just not a good solution. Too much chance for misinterpretation

  5. The Other Dawn*

    UGH I feel so bad for the OP! If it were me, I’d probably leave them in the office kitchen and mark them “free for the taking.” Or I’d loudly ask if someone accidentally left their breath mints behind. But I enjoy calling out stuff like that.

    Reminds me of when I left my former branch (banking) to go to another branch as a manager. The branch employees had a cake for me. My going-away gift? I bag full of cheap bath products. I normally wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but I was obese at the time and, while my clothes were always clean and I showered and brushed my teeth everyday and used deodorant, it’s still possible I may have had an odor. But I’ll never know for sure if that gift was meant to send me a message, or if that’s just what they decided to get for me. I felt like crap after that. (Given that they gave the previous person a leather briefcase, I’m inclined to think they were sending a message.)

    1. Laura*

      I did not get that idea at all from what you describe. There are thin people who smell AWFUL, for instance – very acrid I would never connect a body smell with excess weight. I think someone was in a rush and grabbed you a not particularly nice present, but from how you describe your hygiene I really do feel that no point was made here.

  6. Sry*

    We had someone work in our office who did not smell pleasant, to put it in the nicest way possible. We voted someone closest to her to say something and she did. It was met with a defensive response and nothing changed so we just started reporting it to HR. I feel for Mr. Anonymous because you’re damned it you do, damned if you don’t. I’m also sorry you’re going through health issues.

    1. danr*

      There was a manager at my old company who had a medical condition that caused severe body odor. We all knew about it and lived with it.

      1. Sry*

        I am just commenting from a perspective of someone bringing it up directly and how it ended and why maybe someone felt they needed to do it anonymously.

        1. Naruto*

          But nothing happened in your situation that made it bad to have brought it up directly, as far as I can tell. Regardless, there’s a big difference between like an anonymous note and bringing a concern to a supervisor or HR.

          1. Close Bracket*

            “It was met with a defensive response”

            Define “bad” for us. Sure, the recipient didn’t punch the person who brought the problem to her attention, but a defensive reaction is not a good reaction, and it is certainly not a problem solving reaction.

        2. fposte*

          I’m with Naruto–I’m not seeing that your story has the moral of “this is why people do stuff anonymously.”

          1. Sry*

            my story would be longer than the OP by several paragraphs. just imagine the worst smell you can smell, the worst reaction possible and multiple that by 5…then drag it out for several years until retirement. oh and reduce office space by half and add customer facing to the job description and you’re probably almost there.

            1. fposte*

              You think she’d have been a treat if you’d dropped her an anonymous note?

              This is reminding me of the discussions about soft no vs. explicit no when it comes to creepers, with people offering up the belief that men can become angry and abusive when told an explicit no–but it’s not like people like that are placid and accepting of other kinds of rejection either.

              1. Close Bracket*

                “eople offering up the belief that men can become angry and abusive when told an explicit no”

                You don’t read the news, do you?

      2. Jj*

        You shouldn’t have to live with having something offensive and potentially deleterious to your own health just because someone else is struggling to reach the society accepted minimum behaviour level.

        1. Avocado Toast*

          “You shouldn’t have to live with having something offensive and potentially deleterious to your own health just because someone else is struggling to reach the society accepted minimum behaviour level.”

          THANK YOU! A comment above tried to excuse OP’s behavior because “mental health is a medical issue.” As if mental illness is an excuse to eschew the bare minimum of social norms and expectations regarding personal hygiene. I feel like it’s such a desperate attempt to be “accepting” or “tolerant” that it swings all the way around to being insulting and patronizing to people afflicted by mental illness. People with mental illness are not so fundamentally broken that we can’t expect them to shower and brush their teeth, and trying to suggest as much only encourages/reinforces stigmatization and ostracism.

          Expecting people to meet the minimum standard of cleanliness so that their personal body odors are not offensive to those working with them should not be considered an unreasonable demand.

    2. Still haven't created I name I like myself here yet*

      This is probably why it was left anonymously. They probably wanted resolution instead of dealing with the risk of someone reacting defensively or having to pull HR in.

      Alot of people in my office bring toothbrushes and mouthwash so I always bump into brushers in the bathroom. I know when my father had dry mouth he used a special mouthwash and it cleared up his issues in that department.

      1. Sry*

        there is so much more to the story, but in short, the fallout was bad and nothing was resolved.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think people are fooling themselves if they think someone who reacts defensively/badly to direct feedback will somehow react less defensively/badly to indirect, anonymous feedback. In my experience, a defensive person’s reaction to both efforts is equally bad, but the anonymity also stokes fear/paranoia and undermines teamwork on a global level.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Maybe they won’t, but I don’t have to be on the receiving end of it. That’s the point. If I’m already on the receiving end of someone’s foul odor, I see no reason to subject myself to more foulness.

          Strong body odors/bad breath also undermine teamwork, even if they are caused by a medical condition.

  7. Naruto*

    I received an anonymous note from a neighbor about my dog barking. It made me feel awful. It didn’t let you try to explain, apologize, or seek more information. It just made me wonder who was mad and why they were so mean.

    OP, I’m sorry. Sure, if you have a medical condition and a toothbrush might help, bring one in. But really, try not to let this get to you. Whoever left the mints anonymously is a flat-out jerk, and they aren’t worth your time or emotional resources.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “It didn’t let you try to explain, apologize, or seek more information. It just made me wonder who was mad and why they were so mean.”

      Why is it so mean? I’ve confronted people about their noisy dogs, and people occasionally get psychotically defensive about it – to the point that one old neighbor poked me in the chest so hard with her finger that it left a bruise. (So I blasted speed metal across the yard whenever her dog started barking – not the most mature response, but astonishingly effective.)

      Anonymity is not the most courageous and interpersonally deft way to handle the situation, but there’s really nothing to negotiate or explain, and it prevents having your request litigated like it’s a debate point.

      1. Not Karen*

        What do you expect the dog owner to do? Tell the dog to shut up? Clearly you’ve never had a dog… it doesn’t work that way.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Yes, it does. You can train a dog to stop barking. Every dog I’ve had has been trained to stop barking with a firm “No / Quiet”. It’s learned behavior like anything else. It’s not impossible to teach them not to bark all the time.

          1. The Strand*

            It’s a slippery slope though, it all depends on what “noisy” is defined as, and whether there are easy methods to improve other people’s discomfort. If my medium sized dog and my neighbor’s little dog get in a bark fight through the fence (happens usually once a weekend – little dog is territorial), either my neighbor or I bring our dogs inside. I don’t blame my neighbor for something that is inherent to her dog’s breed.

            I have lived next to a set of big dogs that would bark constantly and made it impossible to enjoy my backyard. I would assume that Scientist’s neighbor has something obnoxious like that, rather than he doesn’t want to ever hear any barking ever.

            1. Lora*

              LOL @ bark fight. I call it a Barking Contest. My dog and two other neighbors’ dogs have one daily, every afternoon/evening. When I bring my dog in, he barks extra-loud so that the barks can be heard across the street (although very faintly) and then the dog across the street starts, and then the other dog starts, until they all get fed their supper and settle down.

              The thing is, the dog owners have all been in this neighborhood for decades. Anyone moves in who is bothered by dogs, stray cats, chickens, critters in general, is really swimming against the tide.

        2. not my usual alias*

          If I’m home, and my dog is barking, I bring the dog inside. It sounds like Scientist’s neighbor was home when her dog was barking – otherwise, what’s the point of blasting music across the yard – and she refused to do anything about it.

          (Although, if you had other neighbors, it was kind of mean to force them to listen to the barking dog *and* your music.)

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Yeah, she was not employed and home all day, and the dog stood in the same place in the back yard and barked incessantly. He stopped when he was brought inside, which is what I requested.

        3. MashaKasha*

          I had a very vocal dog. To the point where “shut up, Sparky” was a command that he knew and obeyed… for about two seconds. Some dogs just bark more than others. There’s not much to be done about it. They’re dogs. It’s what they do. It’s what some of them were specifically bred to do.

          1. getitright*

            Humans shouldn’t have to suffer through it though. Owner can choose to train, muzzle, or live somewhere that doesn’t interrupt the peace and quiet of dozens, if not hundreds, or neighbours.

            1. MashaKasha*

              I guess it depends on where people draw the line. Expecting a dog never to bark is not realistic. Expecting a dog not to bark outside for hours on end is extremely realistic.

        4. fposte*

          Not exactly like that, but owners certainly have mitigations they can use, one of the big ones being training; it’s also pretty common that owners don’t know they’re dogs are barking, because it happens when the owners aren’t home. A constantly barking dog is also going to be a breach of the law in a lot of places, so it could be pretty expensive for an owner that doesn’t deal with their pooch’s separation anxiety or fence reactivity or whatever.

          I actually understand the desire for anonymity slightly more for something you can call cops for, in fact, because identifying yourself in an early communication means any call to the cops will be laid on your doorstep in future. However, I think for most neighbor relationships it’s still best to start with direct, polite communication that does identify you, and I did that with my very barky neighbor, so I know how exposed it can make you feel.

        5. Amadeo*

          Training the dog would be a good start. It is completely possible to teach your dog to mind its manners. I would never allow mine to bark across the yard like a complete idiot. I expect the same in return.

        6. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          The tone of response is illustrative of my point, but perhaps a bit too on the (wet) nose. I’ve had five dogs, actually, and have two right now, so do check your assumptions. There are multiple training approaches that have worked well for me in the past with two of my dogs who tended to bark. They require a level of commitment and thoughtfulness not common among people willing to leave their dog in the back yard barking constantly for 10-12 hours, but it’s possible.

        7. Joielle*

          Apologies if this is veering too far off topic, but my dog is trained not to bark. The command is “quiet.” It took a little persistence, but was not actually that hard.

          In a way, it’s similar to the bad-breath situation in that no matter how the information is relayed to you, if you’re doing something that negatively affects other people and it’s possible – within reason – to do something about it, you should. Whether that’s teaching a dog a new command or brushing your teeth at work.

          1. fposte*

            Agreed. And while dogs may be bred to bark, it’s an unwise choice to bring a barky dog into a situation where that’s going to be a problem with neighbors (like, anything non-rural) and not give the pup appropriate training and supervision to mitigate the impact.

        8. Hrovitnir*

          It is entirely incumbent on the dog owner to not let their dog bark excessively, yes. Now, dogs will bark sometimes, so people freaking out if it happens ever is over the top, but of course you’re supposed to train your dogs. And if they’re barking at a squirrel or something… bring them inside.

          It does suck if you adopt a dog that needs a lot of time to adjust, but that’s why it’s a good idea to talk to your neighbours.

          It’s really frustrating having dogs when your neighbours make no effort to curb their dogs’ barking too, btw. It’s hard on your dogs not being allowed to respond, and it’s harder to train your dogs.

        9. Artemesia*

          The owner knows they are a neighborhood menace and refuses to do anything about it. The idea ‘why didn’t they tell me’ is ridiculous. The owner can certainly hear the dog and KNOWs it is bothering the neighbors. If you have a dog, it is on you to train it properly or house it properly if it is constantly barking and annoying the neighbors. No excuse for it.

        10. Optimistic Prime*

          Umm…yes it does. I have a dog, and you can train a dog to stop barking. And you should, in fact, train a dog to stop barking if you live in close quarters and the dog is disturbing others.

        11. OhBehave*

          I expect the owners to bring the dog in when it’s done its business! And I’ve had dogs all my life.

    2. Kate*

      As far as the neighbor goes, I have some super crazy, neighbors with strong violent .

      I didn’t know at the time I politely asked them to stop doing something that was actively harming my health because of multiple conditions I have. Thankfully they didn’t attack me, as I found out later was a strong possibility. But they did refuse to stop hurting me with their actions, which would have been really easy for them to do.

      They seemed friendly and normal from a distance, I only found out later what they were really like. I was pretty freaked out and I resolved that no matter how nice a neighbor seemed, I would always go anonymous from then on.

      That resolve has only been hardened by 1. a nice neighbor who I started chatting with about the weather, who started proselytizing to me about the end times and how the devil was going to come to earth and kill the non-believers, 2. a neighbor who refused to take her mental health meds and ended up pounding on my door trying to get me to let her in.

      TL;DR I’m sure you are a very nice person, but your neighbors have no way of knowing that you aren’t a scary person who’ll slash their tires if they make you mad. Anonymous is the way to go with neighbors.

      1. Kate*

        ETA: I didn’t go into detail about the health thing because I have told friends and family about it, and it would out me. The neighbor who wouldn’t take her meds wasn’t in any danger, she wanted in for an unimportant reason, think, to watch TV or borrow a cup of sugar, so to speak, which we couldn’t do/didn’t have.

      2. MashaKasha*

        Yea, I would not go to talk to a random neighbor either. At least, not alone. The neighbor might get angry with what I say, the neighbor might be armed, and so forth.

        The office situation, though, is completely different.

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      I’m actually okay with leaving anonymous notes for neighbors. With coworkers, you presumably know their personality and have interacted with them on a day to day basis. If you’ve never said anything to your neighbors, you have no idea how they’ll react. It could be anything from an apology to them getting incredibly violent and defensive. I’ve been in the latter situation.

    4. The Strand*

      I used to petsit my friend’s lovable dog, who was an escape artist when she wasn’t home. Their back fence was backed up next to a graduated slope ; the dog would jump the fence, run up the slope and explore the houses on the other side of the hill. Apparently she would run back down the hill when she heard my friend park the car and come in. One of her neighbors wrote an incredibly hateful note, attached it to the dog’s collar, but until that time, my friend had no idea the dog was getting out. She was mortified that she’d bothered people, and from then on the dog always spent the day in the garage, but the note was so nasty she never really trusted her neighbors after that.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Someone did this with my dog, also. [Sidenote: She does not bark often, she is an indoor dog, she is trained to stop barking on command but only if that command comes from a human she knows. That said, she occasionally bays when I’m not home and she’s feeling out of sorts, and it can be heard outside even though she’s indoors.]

      I didn’t take it badly, but it did make me feel frustrated/judged. Conversely, I had a neighbor who brought it up to my face, and we had a really constructive and helpful conversation that seemed to diffuse any tension that neighbor was feeling while also decreasing the impact of my dog’s noisiness on that neighbor. I have no idea if the anonymous neighbor ever felt like the issue resolved.

    6. Marcy*

      I’ve had the same happen to me. It wasn’t even a note so much as a copy of our county noise ordinance with the dog section highlighted. It was highly annoying because while I have a barky dog (herding breed), I don’t leave him outside to bark constantly, and to my knowledge he doesn’t sit around barking all day while I’m away (I’ve asked another neighbor). He will bark when I first bring him outside on our walk because he’s excited, and he’ll bark any time someone walks past or rings the doorbell. His bark is somewhat…piercing though so I get why it’s annoying, but he’s fulfilling his function as a guard dog so…whatever.

      I’ve basically shrugged and ignored the note. If someone had talked to me about it and told me exactly what their issue was, I’d probably try to make more of an effort. However, that particular anonymous note just got the stubborn lawyer response from me: “There’s no way they can prove the violation.”

    7. Grey*

      I think the mindset is different when it comes to barking dogs. A person must certainly know that they’re disturbing the neighbors when they let the dog out to whine and bark nonstop for hours. A person who doesn’t care about disturbing the neighbors probably doesn’t care what they have to say about it.

      Same goes for the wind chimes.

    8. Taylor Swift*

      Okay, but if your dog was barking you probably weren’t home, so how else were they going to contact you and let you know it was a problem? I definitely know there are people out there who would leave mean notes, but the act of leaving a note is not inherently mean.

    9. Annabelle*

      Ugh, I’ve been there and it’s no fun. The neighbor in question ended up outing herself by calling in noise complaints on everyone else in the building, actually. But in the interim, it created a lot of stress with no real way to resolve it.

  8. Janelle*

    I have to disagree. This for sure stings but to me this is the least embarrassing way to handle this. Also if LW knows she has bad breath why not already have ways to handle this? Sensitive issues like this are difficult for all involved but this would be a heads up to me to work towards solving the problem.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Not all bad breath is easily handled, so to me, your comment is a little insensitive. It can be caused by many non-oral hygiene related medical conditions. Sure, the OP can pop mints or gum, but one can’t realistically have their breath freshened at every moment someone pops by.

      My breath is not the greatest. I know. I personally not try to get my breath in anyone’s face, but I talk softly and some people can’t hear well. . .

      1. Ann O'Nemity*


        A previous colleague of mine had bad breath from a medical condition. She did more than anyone I’ve ever known to deal with it – brushing teeth multiple times a day at work, gum and mints almost nonstop. And she still had bad breath. I’m not sure what else she realistically could of done.

        That said, I seriously doubt anyone would have left her mints, like in the OP’s case. Simply because my colleague was obviously doing everything in her power to fight it already.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I agree with you. If I were the person with bad breath, I’m pretty sure I’d appreciate this subtle hint rather than having to have an awkward face-to-face conversation.

      Having read all the responses that think that this is terribly cruel, though, is useful for me: if I’m ever the person who has to deliver the bad news, I’ll do it in person.

      1. JulieBulie*

        +1 to both of Victoria Nonprofit’s points:

        1. I would rather receive tic-tacs than have someone say something to my face,
        2. I won’t assume that someone else would feel the same way.

        Regarding #1, though, that assumes that I’m already aware of a breath problem, and the mints tell me that I haven’t been controlling it as well as I thought I was. If the mints just showed up out of the blue when I didn’t suspect I had bad breath, I’d be clueless and probably put them in the kitchen.

      2. INFJ*

        I think what people are finding cruel about this situation is that the OP already knows about the issue because it’s an underlying health problem and has been trying to mitigate it. Even though we know the coworker who did it probably doesn’t connect the medical issue with the bad breath, it’s still harsh for OP because on top of struggling with health issues, OP now has the added struggle of wondering if people are talking about it at work. I mean, that’s the sting of the anonymity: you don’t know if it’s 1 people or 5 or who’s talking to who about it. I mean, the same could be true if only 1 person told you face-to-face, but at least you have plausible deniability: “Maybe this is just something that so-and-so has noticed.”

    3. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I know it’s on the minority but I would prefer this method. Face to face confirmation at work makes me physically ill, just thinking about now I’d a little nauseating, so if someone can provide a way of telling me something unpleasant without actually making me look at them, I’m all for it.

    4. Anon Accountant*

      I think the person who left the mints was hoping to avoid an awkward conversation and thought this would be a less cruel way of addressing it.

    5. Joielle*

      I agree with you! There would be considerable awkwardness either way, and the anonymous route allows the receiver to process that in private. That’s definitely what I’d prefer. Maybe another option would be to write a kindly-worded anonymous note (I know, also widely loathed) to say that the person hasn’t talked to anyone else about it but has noticed that the bad breath is a problem. At least then, the message would be clear, and hopefully the confirmation that the person hadn’t been gossiping about it would help.

    6. Roscoe*

      I was thinking this as well. I’d much rather have it anonymously left than have an embarassing conversation about it. Even if they meant well, I’d feel awkward around them in the future

  9. F M*

    I’m honestly surprised at the anger here at the person who left the mints. I would’ve thought it was a kind, gentle gesture, delivered in that way to avoid embarrassment to the LW. No need to have an awkward conversation in front of someone; just useful information, in case the bad breath issue was something she wasn’t aware of. I would far, far rather have the tic-tacs show up on my desk than have to talk to someone about this kind of thing!

    If this many people here would find it insulting, I guess I’d better keep that in mind if something like this ever comes up in the future around me. And now I know I shouldn’t use that approach myself. But I am going to push back against everyone saying this person is being cruel or petty; they may just think, as I would have, that it was a kind heads-up that saved face for everyone.

      1. fposte*

        Somebody downthread suggests that it would have been better to leave a brief still-anonymous note with them to avoid the “Does this means what I think it means?” mental gymnastics–would you agree with that, or do you really think the mints with no words would be the best for you? I’m curious if we have two camps or three here.

        1. Taylor Swift*

          Hmm, for me anonymous note + mints is in the same camp as just anonymous mints. And I personally would be in that camp rather than in-person conversation, but it is good to know that many people don’t feel that way!

        2. Cat*

          I don’t have strong feelings about the note. It would probably be better if it was very carefully phrased, but worse if it was flippant or otherwise insensitive.

        3. DCompliance*

          I think I would get the point without the note…but I would prefer note compared to face to face.

        4. JulieBulie*

          I would prefer a note if it clarified things (so I know it’s not a random gift of lame candy), but it could certainly make things sound worse, more hurtful, more confusing, more insulting, more petty, etc. (Like a relative who found an anonymous note in his mailbox: “Rake your leaves. People are talking.”)

          The ideal note would give me the impression that this was a discreet heads-up from one person, rather than a missive prepared by the Anti-JulieBulie Committee after a lot of discussion.

          Though, thinking about it more, if you’re going to give me a note, you probably don’t need to give me the tic-tacs. Because tic-tacs are tiny and weak.

    1. LadyL*

      For me, I would wonder with every person I talked to whether they thought I smelled bad. I would be very nervous each person was judging me. I would wonder if it was more than one person, like if everyone was in on it. Knowing where I stand with someone, even if it’s not great, makes me feel secure. Worrying that people are talking behind my back,. or worse, that people I thought things were good with secretly have issues with me, really upsets me.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I’d wonder that no matter how I was told, though. I wouldn’t assume that just the one person who told me directly thought I had bad breath; I would assume that I had bad breath and everyone experienced me that way.

        1. Kate*

          Yep, in my experience, not to be unkind, if someone’s breath smells, it is a fact, it isn’t something that only one person notices, unless everyone else can’t smell because of a medical condition.

        2. LadyL*

          But in person you get tone, and you get facial expressions, and you get to respond.

          A “Hey, can I talk to you? Lately it seems like your breath has been kind of overpowering. I know this is really awkward, but I just didn’t want you not to know,” said with a sincere and kind facial expression is miles away from anonymous mints. If you thought it was appropriate to do so, you could even add, “I’m so sorry if this is upsetting to you, but I know that a change in breath can be a sign of a medical issue. I couldn’t forgive myself if you were sick and didn’t realize, and I could have said something to help you,” because re-framing it as concern over a medical issue takes the onus off of the person (bad breath from poor health is usually seen as a situation beyond your control, but bad breath from poor hygiene is usually perceived as a moral failing).

          And then as the receiver you’re free to say, “Oh my god, I had no idea!”, or even to say, “Hey yeah, it’s a medical thing, I’m working on it”. If you feel comfortable with it, you can even intimate that it would be ok with you if this person let others know that you’re aware, so you don’t have to have this conversation again. You can end the conversation on a light comment or a joke. It may be uncomfortable, you might still go home and cry afterwards, but at least you get to be in control of your narrative. You had a conversation with someone about your breath, as opposed to someone sending you a secret message (you acting vs. being acted upon). With the secret message you have to just sit in your own uncertainty and discomfort.

          1. The Strand*

            I think it can also be helpful to refer to the medical issue happening to a friend, family member, or yourself, if it’s true. The more that it is treated like something within the range of human experience, the less offputting it is.

          2. Courageous Cat*

            Yeah, I agree with a lot of this in a lot of ways, but what this is essentially doing is putting a lot of emotional labor on the person sending the message. For someone you don’t know well, some people don’t want to have to go through the (mostly) meaningless niceties and deal with a potential emotional fallout from the person being told. They just want to send their message and be on their way, and I think for the most part, people have the right to do that. It’s exhausting trying to think of a way to lessen the blow and there’s not much incentive to do that when it’s someone you’re not close to.

      2. OP*

        Thank you for your comment. This is basically what is going on with me – the part of me that is able to step back, look at the situation, and think about it in the context of my office and my coworkers is sure that this was absolutely intended to be a kind and and gentle gesture.

        The problem is that unfortunately this is hitting a number of areas of anxiety for me (that people are talking about me behind my back, that my physical body repulses people, etc), and it is very challenging for me for that reason. I would have rather had a conversation in person where I would
        be more able to judge the giver’s intentions and feelings towards me.

        Luckily I have an appointment with my counselor tomorrow so I will be able to discuss it with her and work through these feelings then.

        1. Inportant Moi*

          At this point, I think only sympathy can be offered. You’re co-workers have not be notified of your health issue but that you left the office weekly for doctor’s appointments (the specifics of which they do not and should not know). What is the downside in assuming someone was awkward because you have a health issue they don’t know the specifics of as opposed to mean being spirited? There is no way to undo tic-tacs being left at your desk. I wish you good luck in working through your feelings.

          “My boss is aware of my health issue and I have FML paperwork documenting it. My coworkers are aware as I’ve had to leave the office for doctor’s appointments weekly for the past six months but I have not talked about the specific reason for them.”

        2. Inportant Moi*

          At this point, I think only sympathy can be offered. You’re co-workers have not been notified of your health issue but do know that you leave the office weekly for doctor’s appointments (the specifics of which they do not and should not know). What is the downside in assuming someone was awkward because you have a health issue they don’t know the specifics of as opposed to being mean spirited? There is no way to undo tic-tacs being left at your desk. I wish you good luck in working through your feelings. (PLEASE IGNORE MY OTHER TYPO FILLED POST.)

          “My boss is aware of my health issue and I have FML paperwork documenting it. My coworkers are aware as I’ve had to leave the office for doctor’s appointments weekly for the past six months but I have not talked about the specific reason for them.”

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          OP, I am so sorry. That kind of paranoia and wariness is exactly why I think doing something like what your coworker did is not a helpful “solution” or suggestion. But I’m glad you’ll be able to speak to your counselor to process it. I’m sorry you’ve been left holding the bag.

        4. LadyL*

          OP, I’m so sorry this has happened to you. It sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot lately, and handling it with grace and dignity.

        5. Marillenbaum*

          I’m so sorry. This is a rotten way to feel, and raises an important point–we can’t always guarantee that our actions will be received with the intentions we had when making them.

        6. Janelle*

          Totally understand it not feeling good. I am glad you are looking at it as positive as possible. I’m sure it was. My boss and I will just say “mint” or one will hand the other a mint. We know not to even question why. We both want to not have that issue and we work very close. I’ve also learned a good life lesson. If someone offers your gum or a mint just take it. Maybe they are just being polite and offering but maybe they are offering for good reason so I always just accept in case.

        7. MadGrad*

          If you have close friends in the office, consider talking about it to someone. Something like “Oh, I found some tic tac on my desk recently. I know some of the meds I’m on can mess up my breath but I guess it’s worse than I thought (laugh if you can)” and you can ask them what they think of your breath issue if you really want to know. This can give you some feedback to clear your thoughts and insert your reason into the common knowledge in the off chance there is gossip. I’m very sure this was done with kind intentions by your letter, and I hope you can feel better soon.

        8. Close Bracket*

          I get your situation bc I also have dry mouth due to a medical condition, and I also have GAD. However, this puts me in a good position to remind you that your anxiety is yours to manage, not your coworker’s to manage. Further, they are not psychic and cannot possibly know what your preferred manner of hearing that you have bad breath is. Rather than expecting your coworkers to handle your baggage, you need to be the one who decides how to deal with your uncomfortable feelings.

          And even when bad breath is a result of a medical condition, it is still stinks. Having stinky breath doesn’t make you a bad person. Working with others and having stinky breath means you should look into whatever mitigating measures are possible for you.

      3. Optimistic Prime*

        Wouldn’t you wonder that anyway? Once someone noted to me that they had noticed my bad breath, I would immediately begin wondering who else thought that, regardless of the delivery of the message.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I think a person could wonder either way.

          For me, it’s the lack of human contact that bothers me. I have never seen anyone do something like leave Tic-Tacs on a desk that was NOT done in the spirit of meanness. It’s foreign to me that someone could be kind and do this. The few times I have seen this done to people it is after much gossiping, backstabbing and degrading talk. Then several people decide, “Oh, I know. Let’s leave Tic-Tacs or deodorant or mouthwash on that person’s work area.”

          My learning experience here, OP, is that some people think this is a nice way of doing things. If you have had life experiences that were rough, it’s easy to see that this action could be lumped in with the rest of the experiences that were cruel. There are plenty of cruel people out there and it’s pretty normal for us to want to protect ourselves. Indeed, many bullying situations start this way, someone leaves a “hint” on a person’s desk, so getting your guard up can almost make sense, if this ties into what you have seen in life.

          You may find reassurance in surrounding context, such as, everything else about the job is going okay. Or people seem pleasant to you. Maybe you could find a clue in their daily polite behaviors. If they are consistently polite day after day that could be a meaningful fact to consider.

          Another suggestion, maybe you can find one person who you are consistently comfortable with and talk with them. Or maybe mention having a health problem to you boss and saying “If anyone complains you can let them know I am aware and the doc is working on it with me.” For the lack of a better term, I call this “the tell one person” technique. Pick someone who seems sincere and at least semi-trustworthy. Give them the message you want everyone to hear and let the grapevine do its work.
          I have done this with a few things. “My favorite pet died over the weekend, so if I seem like I am not concentrating like I should, that is why. If I don’t talk about it much, my ability to concentrate on the work will improve.” Planting information like this can be very helpful.

    2. Temperance*

      Agreed. I would probably prefer this course of action, TBH. I like the polite fiction angle that a caring friend noticed that I had a breath problem and maybe no one else did.

    3. DVZ*

      Agreed. It would still be mortifying but I would 100% rather find mints on my desk than be told face to face. I also don’t think this is mean-spirited either (it certainly COULD be, but it would not be my first interpretation at all!) – it seems to me like a gentle gesture designed to save face all around, which is a really normal and kind thing to do. This way, both the sender/receiver can politely pretend it didn’t happen, which is completely impossible to do after an awkward face-to-face.

      Also, the logistics of telling someone face to face would stress me out. I work in an open-plan office and don’t always interact with coworkers in a private space. I could definitely work with someone frequently enough to notice bad breath without ever having a natural opportunity to privately tell them. I mean, how do you do that? Ask them to come into a meeting room? Talk in low voices by their desk/cubicle and risk making them feel super exposed? Hope to catch them in the corridor and spring this on them? Perhaps time a bathroom break at the same time? Seriously, I can’t actually think of how I would tell someone this!

    4. Moon Elf Tempest Cleric*

      I also wouldn’t assume cruel, when clueless is probably more likely. Not that it makes the situation less awful for LW and they have all my sympathy for both the situation and the other difficulties.

      Also, +1 for rather getting mints than having a conversation, although I know a conversation is the more ideal solution. With anxiety & insecurity in play, I’m not sure I’d be able to talk to or make eye contact with whoever had to tell me for a long time.

    5. boop the first*

      Same. If I was aware and sensitive of my bad breath, I would already have tic tacs. Lots of em.

    6. SwitchyWitchy*

      I think it’s sort of mystifying because you don’t know who did it, and you don’t know why, or if there was a reason at all. That mystery, depending on other factors in your office/personal life can seem malicious, and there do exist ways to mitigate that mystery/harm by somehow putting the emphasis on “are you ok” rather than “here is my answer to this obvious problem you’re having.”
      To me, it’s more sensitive and polite for someone to overcome any discomfort they might be having about telling me I’ve got an offensive problem I’m not entirely aware of. If they’re able to make it ‘not a big deal’ when they let me know, it makes it easier to match that ‘no big deal’ energy when I deal with it.

      It’s complicated; that much is sure from people having such different takes on it. In something that can be complicated and intentions muddled, I think the best option is to kindly have a conversation, or leave it alone if that can’t be managed.

    7. Anon Accountant*

      I think if someone told me in person about my breath problem I may cry without meaning to. I’d feel like others had noticed and would feel really awkward for a while after that.

      1. Liz in a Library*

        Yeah, honestly I feel the same. I would do my best not to, but there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be able to stop tears if someone confronted me directly about a personal issue I had already been aware of and struggling with.

    8. Alton*

      To me, the biggest issue is the implication of giving unsolicited (and unhelpful) advice. Leaving mints like that can imply that the OP has a problem that’s easy to fix, but in reality, it might not be. I think it’s hurtful to imply that someone has a problem like that due to negligence or laziness when there’s no indication that that’s the case.

      1. F M*

        I was thinking “unaware” rather than “lazy”, actually. We hear stories all the time about people who just don’t know they smell funny, and who would be happy to correct the problem if someone would point it out to them. Since the OP’s coworkers don’t know she has a medical issue, it’s quite easy for someone to think “Oh, gosh, poor OP, she has bad breath and doesn’t know it! I’ll discreetly let her know so that she can fix it without any awkward conversations.”

        Now, it’s unfortunate that in this case the coworker was wrong–that the gesture caused anxiety and OP was already aware and doing the best she could–but I don’t think there’s any malice or sneering in the gesture. Heck, I worry sometimes about whether I have bad breath or body odor and no one is telling me. If I got a box of tic-tacs, my first thought wouldn’t be “They think I’m lazy!” but “Oh, thank goodness, now I know there’s a problem and I can fix it.”

  10. Jen*

    I am sympathetic to both sides here. My husband had a bad bought of dry mouth and it was sometimes awful to be around him, especially in the mornings before he brushed. I can see why a coworker would do that because it really can be gaggingly awful. I also know that my husband would be flustered even when I told him directly to go brush. I can see it being embarrassing both ways and I would not ascribe bad motivations to an anonymous coworker, they may have thought it would be better for OP to do it less directly.

  11. LadyL*

    “And avoiding cruelty should trump the desire to avoid discomfort.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Life is full of discomfort, but it doesn’t have to be cruel. When people avoid being direct they’re almost always putting their desires over what’s best for the other person. There have been times in my life when someone had to come tell me something unpleasant, and no matter what happened after the dust cleared I was profoundly grateful to them for approaching me honestly. The times people have gone the anonymous route? Still leave me cringing and humiliated, even after years have passed.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      So true. It has been the hardest lesson of adulthood for me, but it has made such a difference: be direct. It isn’t incompatible with being gentle, or compassionate; if fact, it is the kindest course of action.

  12. SwitchyWitchy*

    I can’t commiserate with the tictacs, exactly, but I did come into work to a 5 pound bag of tootsie rolls on my desk this morning. No explanation; the bag is opened, but full.
    To further confound the issue, my first thought was to ‘spread the joy’ so to speak and leave a few on everyone’s desk, but after I had left a couple I remembered one coworker who has specifically told me she can’t have that kind of candy any longer. It wouldn’t at all have been a big deal, but I didn’t want to seem insensitive, so I went back and took the candies I’d left. (side note, she had dental surgery a year ago and gifted me all her taffies – my favorite; there was much appreciation and faux-drama about the whole thing, so it was kind of unforgettable)

    Now, that would be quite a coincidence if that’s also what happened in your office, OP – as in, maybe someone forgot to remove the tictacs from just your desk. Tictacs are also not candy, so there can be a different implication when gifting them.
    In other words, it feels naive to say it’s possible it was benign, but it feels needlessly malicious to write it off as serious message – and no matter the intention, it’s not one you have to take seriously. If that was the intention – to make you feel bad – that’s a mean/thoughtless person. If they cared at all, they didn’t even give you the benefit of a polite conversation (not saying I think people should inquire about others’ hygiene, but if there’s a drastic change in a coworker, it can be politely and sensitively asked if everything’s going ok).
    So who cares about that person? Someone who so insignificantly desires change in someone else can’t be placed higher on the caring-about-people-scale than yourself, OP.
    This difficult time in your life will pass; you’ll find yourself less stressed by that mystery when you’re focused on more positive things in your life. Good luck!

    1. Definitely Anon*

      I don’t think it is naive to think it can be benign. Someone may have been sending a message or not. I eat tic tacs like candy and know others who do as well. If the OP has them sometimes, someone may have seen and thought she would enjoy some tic tacs. Sometimes it is better to assume good intentions.

      1. SwitchyWitchy*

        “I don’t think it is naive to think it can be benign.”
        I agree, but I know OP said they were having some anxiety issues currently, so that’s where I was coming from there. It can be incredibly hard to give the benefit of the doubt when you’re in such a mental/emotional state; especially when you don’t feel grounded/connected to those around you, it can feel like a major misstep to make those kinds of assumptions (I suffer from mania, so that’s relevant for me to be aware when I’m overstepping. If I hadn’t developed the reflexes I have, in regards to that, I’m not sure I’d be a functional person).

        1. Kiki*

          As a kid, orange Tictacs were my favorite candy. I would have been so happy to get some at Halloween!

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            Me too! Love the orange ones, and I especially loved tic tacs because they are small and come in the cool container.

    2. LizB*

      I was just thinking, if I was in a small office and wanted someone to fix their breath, I would probably leave gum or mints on everyone’s desk (and a note in the break room being like “the gum fairy has visited Teapots Inc!” or something else silly), so the person wouldn’t be singled out. I know it’s generally not a good idea to address something with a large group when it’s only one person’s issue… but I think giving free stuff could be an exception to that rule, and a way to mitigate the awkwardness.

  13. neeko*

    A few years back, I also had a mental health issue which resulted in my personal hygiene slipping (much better now). Let me tell you, someone telling you to your face is pretty painful as well. I don’t think there is ever an easy way to tell someone that kind of stuff.

  14. NoSmackingGum*

    So someone left a pack of tic tacs on your desk. So what? Enjoy the mints, get on with your day, and do your work. Why assign so much importance and meaning to these tiny bits of sugar? You can’t control what other people do or say, and you don’t have a crystal ball to know others’ intentions for certain. But you certainly can control your reactions. The real problems here are: 1. You have bad breath, and 2: you are perseverating on an insignificant event to the extent that you’ve written AAM about it.

    1. pope suburban*

      I think there is a lot of merit to your suggestion. Learning to let things be awkward because someone else made them awkward is a good life skill. But when someone is having mental health struggles, this is not always so easy.

      OP, I think that this is a good way of thinking to consider, even if you can’t brush your shoulder off a la Jay-Z right now. Learning to let other people’s bad behavior (Which, hey, these mints are not necessarily “bad behavior” per the commentariat) reflect on them and not on you is super important, especially for those of us with anxiety. But if you’re not at that place, well, talk about it in counseling and see what you can do to get there. Best of luck.

    2. Lunch Meat*

      This is an insensitive answer for someone who is dealing with anxiety or other mental health challenges. We can’t always control our reactions or the importance we assign to things.

      1. SwitchyWitchy*

        I agree, Lunch Meat – I’m reposting one of my comments from above because I think it’s relevant here too.

        It can be incredibly hard to give the benefit of the doubt when you’re in such a mental/emotional state; especially when you don’t feel grounded/connected to those around you, it can feel like a major misstep to make those kinds of assumptions (I suffer from mania, so that’s relevant for me to be aware when I’m overstepping. If I hadn’t developed the reflexes I have, in regards to that, I’m not sure I’d be a functional person).

      2. Miss Anne Thrope*

        Actually all you can do is control your reaction. Maybe not your initial one, but through therapy etc, you can control your reaction or learn to control this

        – Someone who suffers from severe depression

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree. It lacks empathy. I understand the idea that all we can control are our emotions/reactions to something, but this comment trivializes the anxiety OP is feeling in a really unhelpful way.

        1. Inportant Moi*

          The OP has stated that the co-workers do not know what the health conditions are.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It doesn’t matter whether the coworkers know about OP’s health history—I’m referring to the lack of empathy in the last line of NoSmackingGun’s comment. The comment is a little brusque but fine until that last line, which suggests that OP’s reaction or feelings are objectively unreasonable. I don’t think that’s a fair argument.

      4. Sylvia*

        That’s true, but I do find reality checks pretty helpful, personally. I thought it was a bluntly-stated, not entirely untrue comment.

      5. GraceW*

        We can control our actions, even if we can’t control our emotions. A person can feel a certain way, yet not have that feeling dictate how she acts.

    3. Key to the West*

      This is clearly not an insignificant event to the OP.

      I would almost consider what happened to fall under bullying (though I appreciate not everyone would agree).

      Would you have the same reaction if a diet bar was left on an overweight/obese person’s desk? Should they just eat the bar and get over it?

      1. Anon3*

        Bullying?? I think that’s stretching things quite a bit. At work if I have to interact with someone with consistently bad breath; that has an impact on me. Consistently interacting with an obese colleague doesn’t impact me at all. They aren’t the same.

      2. Katy*

        Bad breath, even for medical reasons and obesity are in pretty different classes.

      3. swingbattabatta*

        I think bullying has become one of the most over-used words these days. Every unkind action is not bullying.

      4. Grapey*

        Yes I would if it were as culturally acceptable to offer a diet bar to a fat person face-to-face as it is to offer a mint to someone face-to-face.

      5. Close Bracket*

        The difference being that somebody’s weight doesn’t affect their interactions with others. Somebody’s odor does.

        “Getting over it” is not the right take away. “Recognizing that your issues are yours” is the take away.

    4. The Strand*

      Hey, it is a gift to all of us that someone took the time to describe an experience and question that they have. I can’t imagine why you would criticize a letter writer for writing in, and in the same breath talk about insignificance. Advice columns are by nature, a place for people to share their anxieties – large and small.

      There are always going to be letters that don’t click with some of us personally and our values.

      I have seen several comments that resonated with either an experience I had or witnessed, and OP made that discussion possible. It also happens on letters where I don’t personally share the same worries or judgment that the letter writer has.

    5. MadGrad*

      There’s a lot of flak for this comment, but I think it’s a fair point to frame this as an insignificant event. Anxiety isn’t rational, and I know mine can make a lot of things seem bigger or more important than they are. Sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded that your thoughts are being guided by your worries. Sympathizing and extrapolating further can make it worse for me after a while.

      In this instance, there’s nothing the lw can do that she isn’t already doing, and neither the tic tacs nor her bad breath are a big threat, so there’s really just the discomfort to deal with. If she can bring herself to think of it an insignificant event, I’d call that a win, right?

      1. Avocado Toast*


        It should be noted that it doesn’t help the anxious cope with anxiety, to legitimize or validate irrational reactions or overreactions.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      We don’t get to pick what is significant or insignificant to others.

      OP has already said this is significant to her. So I think that point is pretty clear.

      I will suggest this, OP, you can take the Tic-Tacs and quietly toss them in a remote garbage can. I am suggesting this because I read somewhere about tossing out stuff around the house that gives us a negative feeling/vibe. I decided to try this idea and found I enjoy my home more. It’s not a huge leap for me to offer the idea here in this instance because sometimes we just have to get rid of the negative. While it is mostly a symbolic gesture to toss them out, there is also a relief to it.

  15. MuseumChick*

    OP, I’m so sorry you have to go through all of this (medical and mental health issues and now the tic tac situation). My best guess if the person who left them was not trying to be mean or cruel but probably honest to goodness though this was the best way to handle the situation.

    Another thought I had when reading this, I’ve experienced, and know a lot of people who have experienced, speaking directly to someone about a sensitive situation (everything from body odor to an aggressive dog constantly getting into another person’s back yard) they get yelled at and dismissed. It affects how you go into these situations in the future.

    I would go with Alison script, it basically gives people the green light to talk to you directly.

    1. Jennifer Needs a Thneed*

      I walk as part of my commute, and sometimes I walk by bushes that are taking up more than half the sidewalk. This is especially irritating if it’s been rainy, or if the bushes are rosemary. I think that everyone should walk by their own houses once in awhile to see how much sidewalk is available, and how low their tree branches are getting.

      Anyway, my solution has been the non-anonymous note. I’m shy to knock on people’s doors, so I leave a note that includes my name and address, in case they want to talk to me. Sometimes I include a photograph. And it’s worked: a couple of looming trees got cut back then (and have been trimmed since then too).

  16. Alice Y*

    I seem to be in the minority, but I would much prefer an anonymous note/Tic-tacs on my desk to someone trying to have a face to face discussion with me about something like this. Then I can process it in private rather than dealing with the awkwardness *in front of someone* – like, how do you react to that? how much do you explain? I’m sure I’d turn bright red and stutter. What if they try and offer advice when I just want to escape the situation ASAP? What if they try and reassure me? It sounds horrible. I’d rather just start bringing in a toothbrush/mouthwash and try to forget it ever happened.

    I guess it’s good for me to see how much people apparently hate anonymous notes and think they’re rude, so I won’t do that to anyone.

    1. BananaPants*

      I’m with you. It would be far less embarrassing and awkward for all parties than having a face-to-face conversation. I’d be mortified either way, but at least an anonymous note/mints would be something I could process privately rather than feeling on-the-spot and basically having to say, “Yeah, it’s from side effects from a new medication, it’s probably not going to change any time soon.”

    2. Courageous Cat*

      Yeah. I would love nothing more than to never have to confront any of that head on in that manner, especially in my workplace.

  17. Amy*

    This would make me so paranoid if it happened to me. Did they actually mean to say I have bad breath, or am I reading too much into a simple candy? If they did mean to say I have bad breath, do they think I’m gross and have bad hygiene, or do they think I might be embarrassed and are hoping to help me avoid it getting worse? How many people have noticed my breath? I would never ask a coworker to change their hygiene methods unless it was so bad that it was keeping me from working well with them–is my breath really THAT BAD?

    Sure, this lets the person leaving the mints avoid a potentially awkward conversation, but it stirs up so much anxiety and what-ifs for the recipient. All of the above could have been covered in, like, 30 seconds of actual conversation. I think it’s pretty mean-spirited to push all that on someone just because you want to avoid a potentially awkward moment.

      1. Electric Hedgehog*

        I think, OP, that you would have experienced the anxiety described regardless. There’s no need to get hung up on others’ perceptions of you. You’re doing your best, and that’s all you can do. Keep working with your doctor/dentist to find solutions to your medical issues, and let the rest fall where it may.

        Enjoy the mints, go and do something that makes you feel good/beautiful (I favor pedicures, personally), and move on. Don’t let your fear or anxiety control your life.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          There is a distinct anxiety from being confronted on an issue that’s sensitive and the anxiety of paranoia. OP almost certainly would not have experienced the latter if the issue had been raised in person.

          It’s really not helpful to tell someone not to let fear or anxiety to control their life, particularly if we don’t know if OP is living with anxiety or other mental health issues that would make this experience particularly painful or triggering.

          1. Electric Hedgehog*

            No need to police me, PCPH. In all seriousness, having suffered from depression myself, the firm resolve not to let my anxiety and hopelessness control me or let others’ perceptions worry me was a hugely helpful factor in getting through my problems. It doesn’t help everyone but you really don’t need to be nasty when I’m offering advice that has helped me previously.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Wow. (That is a “wow” of horror.)

              I didn’t think I was being nasty or policing you, but I realize, now, that my comment may have been overly direct/blunt in a manner that read as judgmental, marginalizing and unkind. I’m very sorry that my comment caused harm. That truly was not my intention.

              1. AMPG*

                Hey, PCBH, I keep seeing people getting really upset about your tone when you disagree with them, and I just wanted to say I’ve found your comments to be really thoughtful and not attacking at all, and I appreciate your contributions to the discussion. Also, I think your willingness to self-examine in response to these comments is really admirable. Just wanted to put that out there.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Thank you for saying this, AMPG. It made a difference to me.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Thank you Victoria Nonprofit (USA); the feeling (and searching!) is mutual :)

            2. AMPG*

              As someone who ALSO suffers from depression, I read your original comment as marginalizing those with mental health issues, since you didn’t actually include any of the detail about your personal experience, and so it came off as one of those incredibly unhelpful “Just choose not to feel bad!” comments that people who don’t understand mental health issues like to throw around. Your clarification makes a lot of sense, but don’t jump on people for not understanding where you were coming from.

          2. Close Bracket*

            “OP almost certainly would not have experienced the latter if the issue had been raised in person.”

            None of us know that, including the OP. A lot of us *think* we know how we would respond to a certain situation, especially after having time to think on the options, as is the case here.

        2. Amy*

          Choosing to live my life in spite of my anxiety is a strategy I rely on pretty heavily for myself, but I still feel like this comment isn’t a helpful response to serious anxiety.

          First: I think it trivializes that strategy. Forcing my way through anxiety doesn’t mean that the anxiety goes away or isn’t a big impediment. It’s a consistently exhausting process, not a simple decision I made one day and now it’s done. It’s definitely a useful tool–I literally wouldn’t be where I am right now without having made heavy use of it–but I don’t like discussing it without acknowledging that it costs a lot (of energy, time, mental space, etc.) to do it, it’s a constant process (I can’t just decide to not get hung up on something, my brain does that whether I like it or not, so I have to find ways to be hung up on it AND function at the same time), and it’s not possible for everyone.

          Second: I don’t think there’s reason to assume the OP would have had that anxiety regardless! Sure, if a coworker had spoken to them and told them in person, they may have felt some anxiety over their breath…but there wouldn’t be all the what-ifs and maybes floating out there, and that’s a significant difference for my anxiety, at least. Worrying about a specific thing is really different than paranoia surrounding an entire general topic.

    1. SwitchyWitchy*

      “All of the above could have been covered in, like, 30 seconds of actual conversation.”

      I feel exactly the same way. It *would* suck, but being told in definites would save me a lot of indefinite worrying.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      It feels like being back in middle school, when people would talk about each other behind someone’s back. It leaves you feeling unable to trust the people around you. Don’t be the middle school student. The counter-example for me is my mom, who is somehow magically able to have these conversations. When Young Marillenbaum was a gross, sweaty 13-year-old, she took me aside one day and said “It appears the deodorant I bought you isn’t working. I’ll pick up a stronger version at the store today, but for now, please take a shower and put on a clean shirt.” Did I feel mortified? Sure, everything is mortifying when you’re 13, but it also gave me a sense of what the problem was so I could do something about it.

  18. Temperance*

    LW, do not ask around. If you go person to person, and try to find the culprit, you’re making a much bigger deal of this than it actually is, and I think it will draw attention to your breath/hygiene issue, which is not what you’re going for.

    I think someone was trying to spare your feelings by leaving what they found to be a gentle hint, especially if the person in question knows that you’ve been going through a rough patch wrt your mental health issues.

    1. Artemesia*

      And who cares who it is? If one has bad breath the culprit is themselves and the answer is not ‘find out who did this’ but ‘what can I do to improve my breath?’ If I got the mints I would step up the flossing, brush more often, use mouthwash more often and if I had dry mouth or a drug that was causing issues, do whatever necessary to mitigate that. There are specific mouth washes and such for this issue and also brushing techniques that involve the back of the tongue that can make a huge difference for killer bad breath. I have terrible teeth and have to be careful about breath issues through meticulous hygiene and I am not sure that is always successful. I’d want to know if I had bad breath often enough to be eliciting that pack of mints so I could take steps to avoid this. Someone telling me directly is doing to be more embarrassing than this hint.

  19. Amber Rose*

    It’s possible someone thought this was the nicest way to address things. There’s no way to know for sure, but I think you’ll have an easier time generally if you can re-frame this as good but misplaced intentions, rather than an insult.

    Also, I know it’s hard for you to face right now, but it can be really hard to impossible to ignore an issue like odor. You would really be better off trying to be pro-active about these things if you can. It’s not your fault, but it is still something you should address if you can (within reason, don’t cause yourself undue hardship). Ignoring it and hoping everyone else will too could cause some stress in your work relationships.

  20. Excel Slayer*

    Op, I feel for you. I’m on meds that initially caused a dry mouth for the first couple of months – I recommend sugar-free polos (sugar free because you don’t want to feel like your teeth are coated with sugar at the end of the day, it’s pretty horrid). If you get nausea too, I find that the mint or ginger sweets helps with that? I also kept water hanging around my desk, but it does have the effect of needing the loo more, so…

    Again, I am sorry that you’re having to deal with this and I wish you well with your recovery.

      1. Excel Slayer*

        OP, this is totally worth noting.

        Maybe have a trial run at the weekend first?

  21. Blue Eagle*

    In reading all of these comments – people commenting that they would prefer being talked to directly and people who would prefer that the mints be left on their desk anonymously – my takeaway is that there is no “one size fits all” best answer to the problem. Some people prefer the direct approach, others the anonymous approach.

    My old boss used to say that the golden rule is not “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” but rather “do unto others as they would have themselves be done unto”. So, just be forewarned that whatever approach you take, some people will agree and others will disagree and hopefully the person that you approach will prefer the approach that you took.

    1. Kate*

      I agree! This is why, not here, but in what feels like every part of life today, it make me so sad to see people assuming the worst.

    2. Ssbb*

      Totally agree! I felt the same way about the thread questioning whether or not you should apologize for something that happened in high school.

      For me, I would 1) be mortified if someone had this conversation with me, 2) be even more mortified if I was already aware of the issue, and 3) be extra mortified if my anxiety and depression were particularly bad at the time.

      So maybe we could all chill out about what the “right” way to handle something is, because it’s different for everyone? And just try to be kind, even when we’re on the receiving end of an approach we may not like because there’s almost no way for the other person to know for sure which approach you’ll prefer?

  22. OP*

    Thanks all for your comments and advice, which is very appreciated.

    For some context that I probably should have included – there less than ten people total who work in and have access outside to my office area, so we all know each other very well and interact daily. Our field is also one that generally attracts reasonable and empathetic people. The part of me that knows that context rationally thinks that it was intended as a kind and face-saving gesture.

    The kind of gifts people have shared in the past are normally small candy bars or gift cards and things like that, and generally at certain times of the year (like when we are really busy or during holidays, etc). It’s never been things like tic-tacs or gum before.

    My medication is related to my mental health and I’ve only been on it for a couple weeks. Prior to that I was trying other meds/dosages. The bad breath is a fairly recent development, but these meds are also the first ones that have really worked for me so I’m very hesitant to change it based on a few (relatively minor) side effects. I’m getting better but still struggling to find the bandwidth to handle things outside the basics of making it out of bed, going to work, etc. I don’t want to overshare but you can see my above comment to LadyL for more details – this was just a painful thing for me for a couple reasons.

    1. MuseumChick*

      OP, I am so happy that you have found a medication that works for you with only minor side effects. I’m very impressed with how open and self-aware you are. You said you suspect you know who left them, you feel comfortable having the following conversation with them:

      You: “Hi Jane! I was wondering, did you leave some mints on my desk?”
      Jane: “Oh, yes, that was me.”
      You: “Ok, it reminded me of something I wanted to mention. Recently I’ve started a new medication that has an odd side effect, bad breath. I wanted to mention it in so if you notice it you can let me know.”

      And you can basically have the same conversation if Jane denies being the one to put the minds there.

      Jane: “No, it wasn’t me.”
      You: “Uh, I wonder who it was. Anyway, it reminded me of something I wanted to mention…”

      1. OP*

        I really like your script above since it addresses the issue as well as acknowledging the impact on coworkers and gives them a way to handle it in the future. I’m still deciding if I want to check in with the most likely coworker but if I do,
        I think this is the approach I will take. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    2. Manders*

      OP, are you and all your coworkers in an open office without a private space for sensitive discussions? I know that it’s always hard to hear this kind of message, especially when you’ve got mental health issues to tackle as well, but it’s possible that whoever left the mints on your desk didn’t want to turn an uncomfortable conversation into a public spectacle.

      You know all about your mental health issues and the side effects of your treatment, and it probably feels like a punch in the gut to be reminded that other people are noticing these things, but your coworkers don’t have access to your medical history. I really doubt whoever left the mints was trying to shame you for having a mental health issue; they may not even realize that you have one.

      1. OP*

        I’m the only full-time staff member without an office – my desk is in a more open area, so I appreciate that it might be more difficult to approach me for that conversation.

        I really like your script above since it addresses the issue as well as acknowledging the impact on coworkers and gives them a way to handle it in the future. I’m still deciding if I want to check in with the most likely coworker but if I do,
        I think this is the approach I will take. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

        1. OP*

          Oh, gosh, yours and MuseumChick’s handles both start with M so I thought the comment had been left by the same person when I scrolled. I still really appreciate your comment.

        2. Manders*

          Good luck, and I’m so glad you’ve found a medication that’s working! I know how awful it is to deal with a serious mental health problem while holding down a job–it feels like the things you’re most ashamed of are in the spotlight all the time, and your brain is latching onto small things as proof that everyone dislikes you.

          I wish there were a perfect side effect-less pill that could fix all that, but science just isn’t there yet.

        3. MuseumChick*

          I’m glad you like my script! In my experience, often you have to pretty explicitly tell people how to handle a sensitive topic/situation. This script does that in a nice way. You’re basically handing them very clear instructions. :)

    3. Jessesgirl72*

      A medication that is helping you is the priority here. :)

      So now you have the empowerment to decide, for yourself, how to take this message. Focus on the rational side of your brain (easier with effective medication, eh?) as much as you can. Do you care that someone thinks you have bad breath, and do you wish to do something about it? Then do so- gum, mints, tic tacs in a better flavor, whatever. If you don’t care or don’t want to do anything about it, then the heck with them. ;) And you know what else, that isn’t a decision you have to make until and unless you get the bandwidth to do so, and if you decide no now, doesn’t mean you can’t decide yes later, when you’re feeling even better. This isn’t world shattering- other people can just deal. What’s important is that you can do whatever you can and need to do. And that you have medication that’s working! Yay!

    4. Cambridge Comma*

      They might be advertised differently in different markets, but I wouldn’t have thought of TicTacs as breath mints at all, because they are not particularly strong, are often not mint flavoured, and don’t really freshen the breath. So it may just be candy to your co-workers.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Even the flavored ones are marketed (on tic tac’s site) as “mints”

        Although, I’m really hoping they weren’t the Minions themed ones, with the anonymous person thinking OP is a fan, while OP is thinking it’s commentary on her breath!

    5. Princess Carolyn*

      It’s great that you’ve found a medication that works well! Do you think it’s possible the dry-mouth and low appetite will eventually be a bit more mild as your body adjusts?

      Because of the personal details you shared, I can see how this experience would be pretty upsetting for you. If your co-workers are unaware of what’s going on with you medically, they probably assumed you’ve been drinking more garlic-laced coffee lately and consider the tic-tacs kind of an off-hand thing. For your own piece of mind, it may be helpful to remind yourself that they likely didn’t mean to hurt your feelings and let it go. Easier said than done, sure, but escalating the matter to management is likely to drag out a yucky feeling even longer.

    6. Competent Commenter*

      OP, I am SO happy that your medication is helping! I began taking medication for ADHD and seasonal depression over the last couple of years and it has been absolutely life-changing.

      I totally feel you on the dry mouth and worry about bad breath. When I started Adderall I was telecommuting, so I was just drinking more water when I got dry mouth, no big deal. But when I added Wellbutrin last fall, and was now working in an office and meeting with people a lot, the dry mouth really ramped up. I got really self-conscious about how dry my mouth was and worried that I had bad breath. It was REALLY stressful.

      I know not everyone can use gum, and any mint-based gum bothers my stomach (I know, it’s supposed to be opposite of that with mint), but I found some sugar-free fruit-flavored gum that didn’t bother my stomach and always kept it on hand. Gum was an incredible help. Even just having it in my mouth tucked next to my gumline as discreetly as possible took care of dry mouth. Because my coworkers knew I was having (unrelated) gum surgery around that time, I would occasionally refer to it apologetically and explain that my dentist wanted me to chew gum–which is true, as dry mouth is really bad for your gums. Also, my mouth goes dry when I’m nervous, so I quickly got locked into a bad cycle of worrying about dry mouth when people sat close to me, and then my mouth getting dryer, and then I’d worry more…gum actually broke that cycle for me.

      I hope that your side effects diminish. I had pretty much all the basic side effects with Wellbutrin, none of them a big deal, and all have subsided (it’s been 8 months). May yours subside as well! Between that and the psychological benefit of using gum, I probably only need it once a week if that, whereas before I needed it every day. I don’t think of myself as having a dry mouth problem anymore.

  23. CatCat*

    This is definitely a let it go situation. Worst case scenario, a coworker thinks you have bad breath and did not know you would prefer they say that to your face (a lot of people would *not* prefer that). At any rate, you have good relationships and do not chalk this up to any sort of malice. Other potential scenarios than the worst case: someone set it down and forgot it, someone thought you might like tic tacs, someone got the tic tacs as a gift and didn’t like the flavor and regifted them to you.

    So there isn’t anything for you to handle here other than enjoying the tic tacs, regifting them, or chucking them.

  24. Jj*

    I’m sorry but the OP obviously has bad breathe and poor personal hygiene and that ca be extremely unpleasant to be around.

    Sounds like the person decided to deal with a situation that evidently needed to be dealt with in what they thought was the most kind and discreet way.

    Opinions may vary, but reading the letter, do we really think the OP would have responded positively to someone confronting their hygiene issues in person?

    1. Amy*

      How the heck are you getting ‘poor personal hygiene’ out of ‘a medication gives me dry mouth, which is a known cause of bad breath’? That’s such a leap.

      1. caryatis*

        You missed the sentence where OP says ” I am also in recovery from a severe mental health episode where frankly I let my personal hygiene slip on some days.”

      2. Temperance*

        LW mentioned in her letter that she had some hygiene issues relating to her mental illness. While I think this comment is a little unkind, it wasn’t a baseless accusation.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          OP also mentioned that those issues have since resolved. So I think it’s unkind and uncharitable, as well as attacking and pointlessly nasty.

      3. Amy*

        You guys are right, I did miss that. But like PCBH pointed out, OP also said those issues are resolved, so I’m still not seeing how this got interpreted as ‘extremely unpleasant to be around’. I’m also really unclear what led to the assumption that the OP would not have responded positively to an in-person conversation. It just seems like a comment designed to frame the OP in the worst possible light, with no real regard to the facts at hand.

    2. Excel Slayer*

      I don’t think that this a particularly kind or useful comment for the OP, especially since they’ve noted that this is both a medical issue and that there are some issues around anxiety that they’re addressing.

    3. Hrovitnir*

      What? The OP specifically says they have a reason for the bad breath and by the sounds of thing haven’t worked out a work around yet. That makes “poor personal hygiene” not only not obvious but also unlikely.

      Also, people are allowed to feel upset, and ask for advice. Nothing about this letter points to someone who is actively neglectful of their hygiene or has a bad attitude, and I think it’s both bizarre and nasty to read that into this.

      1. sunny-dee*

        No, the poor hygiene is something the OP admitted to, for about six months off and on. Also, the OP has not tried a really obvious thing for constant bad breath (brushing at work). While the OP is aware of the issues, it doesn’t sound like she has done a lot to address them yet.

        As for defensiveness, the OP has a good relationship with her coworkers, yet her reaction (in another comment) is that everyone is repulsed by her body and it’s triggering her anxiety. While I feel for her, an extreme reaction like that would make an in-person conversation really awkward (and, honestly, I can’t see how she would really feel better about it – I think she’d still feel bad, just different bad).

        Jj is, ahem, super blunt, but it’s not baseless.

    4. OP*

      to clarify, by letting my personal hygiene slip I mean not showering every day (though still showering at least two or three times weekly), not changing sheets on my bed weekly, not brushing my teeth a few days in a row.

      I recognize that it’s not ideal and have been actively working to return to my normal, but it was frankly not a priority on days when I was regularly considering suicide. I’m appreciative of the advice people have shared with me regarding bad breath as it’s not something I experienced prior to this and don’t really know how to handle.

      Having an in-person discussion would still have been painful, but I would have preferred it as a way to apologize and explain the situation to my coworker without the anxiety I am currently experiencing due to not
      knowing their feelings and intentions.

      1. The Strand*

        OP, if it makes you feel better, at least 20% of the population showers every other day (according to AOL), and millions of people change their sheets every two weeks, not weekly. What counts is what is ideal for you and your surroundings, to keep you feeling good and comfortable about your impact on others.

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        I’m so sorry to hear things have been so hard.

        Not brushing your teeth will affect your breath, as I’m sure you’ve realised.

    5. Close Bracket*

      “bad breathe and poor personal hygiene”

      That’s a bit of a jump, don’t you think? Bad breath doesn’t necessarily mean poor hygiene.

  25. Happy Temp*

    First, thank you to everyone for a new perspective. I’m one of those people who would think “Oh, this is a subtle and gentle hint that will spare OP some embarrassment,” and I can see that a personal conversation is better in general.

    Building on what Naruto said about not being able to “explain, apologize, or seek more information,” I’m curious how the conversation would go in this case, and what a possible way to address it would be? If you took aside OP and gently mentioned the breath, would OP explain the health reasons behind the “bad” breath? And…then what? Then the person who mentions it just has to give an awkward, “O…kay, I didn’t know that” and then nothing changes? It seems in this case that either approach (leaving mints on a desk/a one-on-one conversation) would still leave OP feeling defensive instead of OP increasing attempts to mitigate the current state of affairs, so to speak.
    I kind of feel a similar way about the dog barking: why does it matter how a neighbor addresses it with you? The dog wakes up the neighbors in the middle of the night (for example). Why would a personal comment about it make you more likely to address the situation than a note? I’m genuinely curious. Or do you feel like there’s a reason your dog disturbs the neighbors that you would want your neighbor to know?

    1. Amadeo*

      I’m sort of curious (also genuinely!!) about this myself. We’ve had discussions (big ones) in the comments before about smells and people’s reactions to them, from perfume to body odor. Of course you can just stop wearing perfume and medical issues don’t work quite that way, but ‘people smells’ can often be as discomfort/headache/nausea inducing as perfume. It’s like the conflicting accommodations thing: where does one end and the other begin?

    2. Lunch Meat*

      One factor is that Anonymous Coworker may think she has adequately communicated the problem, so when OP’s medical condition isn’t immediately resolved, Anonymous may be upset or resentful. A conversation would allow OP to say, “I know, I’m working on it, I appreciate your understanding.” It’s just a better way of building relationships and keeping people feeling like they’re on the same side instead of adversarial.

      As for the dog, we’ve had noise complaints where it couldn’t possibly be us (we weren’t home that day, for instance). It would be helpful to be able to say that face to face so they can figure out who made the noise. Or, maybe the dog is barking during a time when they aren’t aware, and it would be helpful to know when it was.

    3. fposte*

      I know we got into dogs barking, but I don’t think the situations are all that analogous.

      I think it’s likely people will feel defensive whatever you do–and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. But presumably your goal isn’t just to make sure you never smell anything unpleasant in life; the communication is “Hey, this is a change, and if it’s easily correctable, you’ll probably want to do something about it,” not “You cannot speak to anyone here again unless your mouth smells more like ours.” Face to face means you have a lot more control over the message (think even how much harsher things sound over email) and that when somebody says, “Yes, it’s something that happens with my stomach cancer” you have the flexibility to say “I’m sorry, I had no idea; please don’t worry about it.” Because a lot of times you do have to just suck it up.

    4. Kate*

      Yep, in my experience the people who are going to change will, no matter how the problem is communicated. And as I posted above, unless you know the person *extremely well* you don’t know if they are going to react really badly or not, even dangerously.

      With all due respect to OP, it sounds like she knew before the tic tacs were left about her bad breath and personal hygiene issues. I have struggled with mental health issues too, but she needed to take care of that. And as others have mentioned, her coworker(s?) had no clue what would be kinder in OP’s opinion, electing a person to tell her, or leaving anonymous mints. So they just picked one, which was all they could do.

      1. Naruto*

        Regardless of whether you think it’s safe to tell people generally in the world at large that they’re doing something that is bothering you (and I don’t think that level of fearfulness is reasonable), this is a coworker. You can’t just not tell your coworkers things because you’re afraid they’re going to explode, unless you have reason to think they might. Most people aren’t like that, and it doesn’t foster the right kind of atmosphere for a place of employment to think they can’t talk about issues like normal people.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      There are several distinct benefits to an in-person conversation. First, it gives me a sense of the person’s tone and concerns, it allows me to validate their concern and apologize, and it lets me explain the cause or what I’m doing to prevent this going forward. I don’t think breath == dogs, but in my experience, people are willing to be more flexible or patient if they think you’re working on fixing a problem than if they think you’re blowing them off.

      I’m more likely to blow you off if you leave me an anonymous note.

      1. Close Bracket*

        “I’m more likely to blow you off if you leave me an anonymous note.”

        Refusing to deal with the impact of your dog/breath/whatever on others unless they communicate with you in your preferred manner (and nobody is psychic) is even more passive aggressive than an anonymous note.

        1. Naruto*

          With an anonymous note, they aren’t communicating “with” you at all because you have no idea who they are and no ability to communicate back. You don’t know if they’re serious, in what way they’re affected or how much they’re bothered, and you can’t talk things out and try to find a mutually agreeable solution.

        2. Laura*

          I really agree with this. If you get a note and you know the writer has a very good point, why would you blow them off rather than adjust accordingly?

    6. Naruto*

      Seeking more information can help if you don’t know exactly what the issue is. This might not make as much sense with bad breath as other odor issues — for example, maybe a new deodorant isn’t working, maybe it’s a certain scent in a product that is bothering someone.

      Here there’s a medical issue. So if OP gets to tell their coworkers, “hey, sorry this may be annoying, but here’s what’s going on and here’s what I’m doing about it” — their coworkers might still be bothered by the smell, but at least on top of that they’re not thinking “gosh, OP is such a jerk who never brushes their teet, how rude!”

    7. Elsajeni*

      Someone in OP’s situation might explain the details of the health reasons, or might just mention that there are health reasons, but either way gets the chance to say “It’s something I’m aware of, I’m working to fix it, but I’m afraid it’s more complicated than just having a mint occasionally”; I think that’s a benefit to both parties, since it means the OP doesn’t have to worry as much about people thinking poorly of her and the person who left the mints isn’t stewing over whether the OP got their hint or convincing themselves that she’s deliberately ignoring it (assuming that the problem takes some time to resolve, which sounds likely since medication is involved). Obviously it’s still awkward and uncomfortable! But I think the anonymous hint approach is fairly likely to result in more, and longer-lasting, discomfort for everybody that the uncomfortable conversation would.

    8. Happy Temp*

      Just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone for your thoughtful and thorough answers! I learned a lot from all of you.

  26. Alicia906*

    I have to say, I would be *much* more comfortable finding tic-tacs on my desk than being face-to-face with someone telling me that my breath is terrible. Apparently, a lot of people feel differently, and I appreciate knowing that; that knowledge will help me next time I have to navigate this kind of situation. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge that folks are really different about awkward situations. Anonymous actions might indeed be preferred by some people (like me!). All that said, OP: I’m really sorry you’re going through this.

  27. HR Hopeful*

    OP, I completely feel your pain. As someone who suffers from PTSD, Anxiety and depression , I have had times where my personal hygiene has also suffered. My manager pulled me aside and asked me if everything was okay because people were telling her I wasn’t taking care of myself like I usually do. It was a very hard and painful conversation but it made me more aware of how my mental health was affecting my coworkers. It also helped me break this particular cycle, since I then made sure to take better care of myself. It is never an easy conversation to have but I am still happy she told me face to face instead of trying to leave a hint or something of that nature. I would be confused and hurt as well if someone did this to me during one of those times when I am feeling most vulnerable. I would personally just try to work through it with my therapist and try to do something to help the issue throughout the day. For example, I now carry spray deodorant , dry shampoo and face wipes in my bag just in case I have one of those bad days and I need to make sure I do not appear to be dirty or smell bad.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      This is so important. It can be tough when dealing with mental health issues to not shame-spiral when someone tells you a reasonable thing about your personal hygiene. In my case, a source I found invaluable was a post on Captain Awkward entitled “How To Tighten Up Your Game at Work When You’re Depressed”.

  28. BRR*

    I’m sorry this happened to you. I would probably not bring it up with anybody. There’s not really anything to gain. Since you have a suspicion of who left them and don’t mention malicious intent, I would write it off as as people not knowing how to handle an awkward situation (not saying the coworker handled this well and intent doesn’t absolve people, but it’s better than someone doing this in an insulting manner). As for others continuing to ignore it, that might be difficult.

    Do you use products to help with dry mouth? Biotene makes a mouth spray that has helped me a lot in addition to their toothpaste and mouthwash.

  29. K*

    I’m curious about this line in the OP’s letter: “I would obviously prefer that whoever left this had continued to ignore the issue.” If a co-worker has a noticeable hygiene issue, why should it be ignored instead of addressed?

    1. Amadeo*

      Also curious about this. I get that there are medical issues at play, but you also share space with others. If something you are doing/not doing/having trouble with is affecting them, they do have a right to address it, don’t they?

      1. fposte*

        I’m not sure “right” is a word I’d use; it’s a bit too legal for me. I think it’s fine for people to discuss ways to harmoniously share space, ranging from radio volume to tobacco spitting to smell of shoes; that doesn’t mean every request will be reasonable or be granted, and I think it’s important to remember that sharing space harmoniously will never be the same as not being able to tell the other person is there. So people will always make some smells and sounds, but you’re going to want to focus on the ones that are dealbreakers/beyond norms and/or that are likely to be changeable.

    2. Amy*

      I don’t think this intended to say it SHOULD be ignored so much as it would’ve been easier for the OP if it could have continued to be ignored. We all sometimes wish for things to go the way that’s easiest for us even when it might not be the best solution overall. :)

      I don’t think there’s always a best ‘should’ path when it comes to hygiene issues, though. It depends so much on the specifics. If your coworker’s hygiene is so bad that everyone on the team is struggling to even work in the room with them, that’s almost definitely worth addressing (either with the coworker or by talking to their manager). If you noticed once that maybe they forgot deodorant that day but generally it’s fine, it’s almost definitely better to ignore it. Most things are somewhere in between, and you have to make a judgement call.

      1. OP*

        Yes, thank you. I’d rather not have the difficult conversation but recognize that it
        often needs to happen – when it does I’d rather it be in person.

      2. Close Bracket*

        “it would’ve been easier for the OP if it could have continued to be ignored.”

        While that is true, OP’s coworkers would continue be impacted. Wanting things to be easy on oneself while leaving things hard on everyone around you is very poor behavior.

        1. OP*

          I’d rather not have the difficult conversation about it (as, apparently, would many others in the comments),
          but recognize that those conversations need to happen. In this case, I’d rather they happen in person so that I have the chance to explain the background behind the issue, let my coworker know that I’m sorry it’s affecting them, and let them know that I’ll work on it.

          1. Laura*

            Then your best solution here is to talk to your co-workers, address the situation, explain it to them and ask them to promote you when you need a mint. If you prefer this happens in person, it would have been a great idea to deal with it upfront in exactly that way. You didn’t deal with it the way you would have liked, so you got a response handled in a way you didn’t like. This should be a really good learning experience for you to model how you would like this handled. Since you recognise the conversations needed to happen, but didn’t initiate them, I don’t quite understand why you feel that others should have initiated them for you in the way you would have preferred.

            The happy news is that everyone you initiate this with will I’m sure be very understanding and happy to cue you if you need a mint: my husband is having extensive dental work, has asked his co-workers to let him know if his breath smells and they’re all really comfortable doing it. Honestly, I see this as a great life lesson for you, quite seriously: model what you want and it will work out fine.

  30. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

    Just want to add a voice to those that would prefer an anonymous note/Tic-tacs left on my desk. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, OP. I’ve been there too – where my mental health issues were causing my hygeine to slip. I would strongly prefer an anonymous tip-off because it would allow to me to process the issue privately and would not force me to make the split second decision whether to disclose my mental health issues and if so how in how much detail should I go into.

    However, I completely respect that you or others would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss in person.

    I try so hard to go by the platinum rule (treat others how they would like to be treated), but its hard to get it right all of the time.

  31. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    Last month I was talking to a co-worker and during our conversation she reached into her purse, took out some gum, popped a piece in her mouth and offered one to me. I took it with a glib “are you trying to tell me my breath stinks?” She answered with a simple “Yes” and I was MORTIFIED! My face got red, I put the gum in my mouth, and walked away. I’ve barely spoken to her since – not because I was upset with her, but because I am too embarrassed.
    I know that the OP wasn’t pleased with the unknown co-worker leaving the mints on her desk, but for me? I would have preferred that rather than someone telling me to my face.

    1. SwitchyWitchy*

      “She answered with a simple “Yes” and I was MORTIFIED!”

      But would you have been as mortified if she said something like “You know, actually I don’t want to embarrass you, but I did notice that today/lately a bit more than usual. It’s not a huge deal, I just thought you might like to know about it. Here you go, if you want a piece of gum? This stuff works great for me.”

      For me, I’d have thought, this person is handling this very maturely; for the sake of not embarrassing myself further, I’ll follow their lead on that. “Oh, ok! Thank you!” or “No, I’ve got something else to take care of it. Oh man, thanks for letting me know, though!” No apology necessary, but social grace on both sides is key.

      1. fposte*

        Right. “Is the coffee breath you or me or both of us? How about we both have some gum before we meet the client?”

    2. Hrovitnir*

      Oh nooo. My sympathies. It’s difficult to work out the best way to say something like that, but that is pretty humiliating. :/

  32. Ross*

    I feel bad for the OP because it’s horrible to realise your co-workers think you smell to the point it’s negatively effecting them. But s/he obviously does smell and it sounds like it’s the humiliation, pain and shock of realising the co-workers know and are bothered that’s the issue. And that is unfortunately simply unavoidable. There is no way for the co-workers to let the OP know without causing pain.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      That’s a good point. I wonder if OP is more bothered by the mints or by the realization that her health issues are more apparent than she realizes. It sucks if you think you’ve been keeping it together and then you find out that you weren’t as successful as you hoped. Perhaps she could take some time and think about what exactly is bothering her. The coworkers’ message? Their mode of delivery? Whether she thinks they should have noticed her frequent appointments and drawn certain conclusions? If we can’t agree here, it’s hard to say where OP’s personal oain is coming from.

    2. WPH*

      Agreed. There was no “right way” to handle this. Every option could have/would have had some kind of negative effect depending on the person and the underlying issue would still be there and everyone would still be aware of it. There was a reply upthread that got dismissed as being cruel, (basically it was to control your emotions and focus on the underlying issue) and as someone who has struggled with anxiety in the past, I’m coming to thinkthat that might actually be the least cruel option. Focus less on what you can’t control and more on what you can.

  33. the_scientist*

    OP, would you feel better if someone had approached you face-to-face? If this had happened to me, I honestly don’t know which option I’d find *less* mortifying.

    Regardless of the motivations of your co-worker, it’s pretty clear that at least one of your coworkers is telling you that there is an issue- while there are medical issues behind this change, I think it is worth your while to explore some mitigating tactics here, whether that’s breath mints/hard candies/lozenges, drinking more water, or brushing your teeth at work. It’ll help you maintain good relationships with your co-workers, and maybe help you feel less self-conscious- if the issue disappears, your coworkers have nothing to talk about, right? I’ve been there with strange body odour as a side-effect of medication, and I was incredibly self-conscious about it despite doing literally everything I could to mitigate it; it truthfully sucked and I was very fortunate that the side effect was short-lived.

    1. Sadsack*

      I wondered about how I might have taken it, too. I think if someone would leave mints, they should have left a kindly worded, anonymous note apologizing for doing it this way because they didn’t want to embarrass me.

      1. AD*

        Agreed. A note would have felt less scold-y than just showing up to find breath mints on your desk (or at least it would if the note were kindly written).

  34. Ann O'Nemity*

    The comments on this are so interesting to me! There’s such a split between people who think the anonymous route is cruel and/or cowardly, versus the people who think it’s acceptable and less awkward.

    1. MicroManagered*

      It IS really interesting. Personally, I lean a bit more toward the opinion that someone probably thought they were being discreet and sparing OP some embarrassment. (Perhaps they were chickening out on an uncomfortable conversation themselves.) I don’t think anyone was intentionally cruel to OP, though I can certainly understand why it FELT that way.

      What I find especially interesting are the suggestions for equally passive-aggressive (and in some cases just plain obnoxious) responses, such as leaving a mint on every desk, loudly asking about it, etc. Assuming for the sake of argument that the Mint-Leaver WAS being deliberately malicious (which again, I do not believe), two wrongs don’t make a right. Attempting to bully or embarrass that person back sounds like the kind of high-drama that makes for a crappy workplace.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Context is really everything. Know your workplace. Most of the times I have seen this done it was part of a bullying campaign, next week something else is left on the desk and so on.
        I do agree that OP’s situation does not fit this scenario. But I feel for OP because if anything like this has been done to her or if she has watched it being done to other people her primary response is going to be “I have to protect me, but how? What am I dealing with here?”

        While not applicable to OP’s setting, if one were dealing with workplace bullying, calling out that bully by talking out loud about the mints would be a good way to stop the bully. It would be effective. But, again, you would have to know for a fact that you are dealing with a bully.

  35. Sadsack*

    Is everyone here having an exceptionally bad Monday? I am seeing a lot of commenters finding fault with others about word choice and definitions in ways that really don’t seem to make any difference in how OP should handle (or ignore) her situation. Maybe calm down, the week is just getting started!

  36. Statler von Waldorf*

    I’ve dealt with anonymous cowards before. The secret is that I simply ignore them, and only respond when people actually use their words. So for everyone who thinks that this is an effective way to send someone a message, I’ll point out that it’s completely ineffective on me. I’d throw the mints in the trash and continue on as normal.

    1. Ssbb*

      Okay, but it’s the only approach I would want someone to take. So we’re at an impasse where we have to recognize that different people have different feelings? Unless they left an insulting note, I would in no way think the anonymous person was a coward. I’d think they were trying to handle the situation respectfully.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        Respect is saying something to somebody’s face if you have a problem. This is hiding from awkwardness, which feels very cowardly to me.

        I’ve had awkward conversations before. If you have respect for the person you are talking to and empathy for them as a human being, it is always the better solution.

        1. Jen RO*

          As it should be obvious based on the comments on this post, there are a LOT of people who think that a face-to-face conversation is not the better solution.

          1. Jaguar*

            I think you’re equivocating on “better.” Statler (and I would agree with Statler) is saying “better” in terms of mature. You’re saying “better” in terms of preferred. You as the individual can prefer the less mature method of non-confrontation, but it’s not the better model for how people should act towards one another.

            The goal of healthy interaction between people should not be the avoidance of awkwardness. That’s a value, but it’s a low one.

            1. Ssbb*

              I don’t think it’s more mature to insist that your method of communication is what everyone else should do, no. I don’t think making someone uncomfortable is a sign of maturity when there’s an easy, alternate path that a sizeable number of people wish you would take.

              1. Jaguar*

                Being able to talk to people and sort out problems is well-accepted sign of maturity. Having a preference against it isn’t an argument against that.

                It is profoundly immature to leave some tic-tacs on someone’s desk if you think they have bad breath. I’m astounded if that’s a controversial statement.

                1. bawab*

                  Not having to have every confrontation just because you can is also a sign o f maturity. You haven’t actually made a case that the anonymous approach is immature, just that direct confrontation is one of several approaches that can be mature in some cases. Saying, I’m going to force a conversation that will embarrass someone when there is a preferred alternative that will get me the exact same solution isn’t at all mature.

                2. Ssbb*

                  You’re not listening to what I’m saying. There are people who would rather receive the breath mints anonymously to discretely tell them they brave bad breath than would want to have an embarrassing conversation about it. It’s not about maturity. It’s about understanding that not everyone in the world feels the same way that you do.

                3. Jaguar*

                  The concept of maturity is, generally speaking, the ability of people to interact with one another and act responsibly without the aid of a supervisor (i.e., a parent). Leaving tic-tacs on someone’s desk represents a failure in both adult interaction and responsibility. People can (and do!) have a preference for immature behaviour, but I don’t see any compelling reason to accommodate that preference.

                  As I said, if we can’t come to an agreement that leaving tic-tacs on someone’s desk is immature, then we are coming from some pretty profoundly different reference points, so I’m going to step away from this conversation thread.

                4. Statler von Waldorf*

                  If, and I repeat it’s a big IF, leaving breath mints would 100% guaranteed to solve the problem, I would agree that it MIGHT be the better solution. The problem is that it flat out doesn’t. You are relying on the person getting the mints to infer that they have bad breath. What if they infer that the cleaning lady forgot them there instead?

                  So now you’ve taken an action and wasted time to not solve the problem at all. That is bad management. If it’s a real problem, use your words and fix it. If it’s not a real problem, why are you worrying about it?

            2. Statler von Waldorf*

              Bingo. It’s not about preferences, it’s about communicating a message. If that message needs to be communicated, then words are the right tool for that job. If it doesn’t, leaving a tin of mints isn’t a solution, because it doesn’t actually communicate the message clearly.

              And there are a ton of letters that Alison receives that would be easily solved with a 30 second uncomfortable conversation. The fact that lots and lots of people would prefer not to have that conversation doesn’t change that fact. This situation calls for either talking to the person face to face or just letting it go.

              1. Close Bracket*

                “I’ve dealt with anonymous cowards before. The secret is that I simply ignore them, and only respond when people actually use their words.”

                Clearly the tin of mints does communicate the message, you simply prefer to ignore it. That’s not mature.

            3. Close Bracket*

              Where on the maturity spectrum does ignoring the message unless it’s delivered to you in exactly the right way fall?

              1. Statler von Waldorf*

                Slightly ahead of the place as replying to all of my comments with the same exact point is.

        2. Ssbb*

          I’m telling you directly that I (and many other people in this thread) would NOT want someone to deliver awkward news to our faces. It’s not about courage, and I would feel incredibly DISrespected if someone knew my communication preference and specifically did what made me uncomfortable. So no, it’s not *always* the better solution.

          1. Statler von Waldorf*

            Part of my job as a manager involves delivering awkward news to your face if it is required. I’m sorry, but your preferences are irrelevant.

            1. Ssbb*

              A manager who doesn’t take my preferences into account for something as innocuous as bad breath is a manager I’m not going to work for for long.

              1. Statler von Waldorf*

                I feel the same way about an employee who won’t accept feedback, even if it is about an subject like personal hygiene. Do you regularly tell your boss which topics they can’t talk to you about?

                1. Close Bracket*

                  “I feel the same way about an employee who won’t accept feedback,”

                  “I’ve dealt with anonymous cowards before. The secret is that I simply ignore them, and only respond when people actually use their words.”

                  The person who ignores people unless they communicate in exactly the correct manner is lecturing someone else on not accepting feedback? Consider for a moment that maybe you should learn to work with other people’s styles instead of enforcing your own.

                2. Statler von Waldorf*

                  To be clear, I don’t ignore people who communicate, I ignore people who hint, talk around an issue and refuse to actually say what they mean. It find it encourages them to use their grown-up words and actually communicate to solve whatever the issue is.

                  And I spent the first 25 years of my career working with other people styles. I’m now in the place where people work around mine. I’m blunt, straight to the point, and like to make sure everyone knows exactly where they stand. I’ve had zero problems with this approach, and I’m not changing it because one rando on the internet disapproves.

    2. Anonymous 40*

      That’s my approach too. Several years ago, in a very unpleasant job, I came in to find a bar of soap on my desk. No note, no explanation, nothing. It was completely baffling because I showered every morning before work and always worse clean clothes. It wasn’t an ordinary bar of Ivory or something, either, but something scented and trying hard to be a “fancy” soap. I spent hours trying to figure out who had left it and if it was a passive aggressive message or some kind of weird gift. Finally decided I didn’t care and threw it away.

    3. Close Bracket*

      “I’d throw the mints in the trash and continue on as normal.”

      Refusing to address something that clearly bothers the people around you unless they communicate it in exactly the right way is even more passive aggressive than the anonymous tic-tacs would have been in the first place.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I know of a local board that refuses to deal with anonymous messages. You either put your face or your name to the message or it goes in the garbage.

      I understand why. The floodgates would open if they took in anonymous messages. However, they do let this be known upfront, they are very public about saying, “If you don’t sign your name or otherwise identify yourself we will not listen.” I do think that a person could say something and request confidentiality, but they would have to identify themselves at any rate.

      A person could throw the mints in the garbage and still work on better oral hygiene. Sometimes we can land on, “viable message, bad delivery”.

  37. Marzipan*

    Though I absolutely advocate for people directly (and kindly) coming out and explaining, when something like this needs to be raised, I have seen this play out so badly that I can understand why people are reluctant to do so. In particular I’m thinking of a situation in my workplace where it was necessary to tell a client about a body odour issue (which was affecting other clients); the manner of raising this was carefully thought through and approached with the individual clearly but with great sensitivity; the individual took it incredibly badly and complained; investigations ensued which affirmed that yes, it had been handled appropriately and sensitively… all in all, it was a very difficult situation and while the client needed to be given the information there was always a risk that delivering it would damage relationships, and indeed it did.

    OP, consider the possibility that in doing this your co-worker was trying to preserve their relationship with you; that they value it and feared damaging it by having a conversation which is always very difficult to be on the receiving end of. (I have had similar information delivered to me, while at school. I never wanted to see the person who talked to me about it again.) For you, it sounds as though you would have preferred to hear about it directly from them, but I honestly believe their intent may have been to avoid causing you the pain those conversations cause.

    I do hope things start to go better for you soon.

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      When the odiferous person isn’t a peer or subordinate, I can fully understand not wanting to put yourself at risk.

      I once worked for a guy – mercifully, it was a brief assignment! – who wore the same pair of Vibram Five Fingers every single day, without socks. You could smell his stinky feet from several cubicles away. Nobody dared say anything; he was the highest ranking person on site. I contemplated giving the guy a can of foot spray on my way out the door, for the sake of his unfortunate permanent reports, but decided it wasn’t worth burning that bridge.

  38. Don't Tread on Me!*

    Ha! I’d leave them on someone else’s desk and say nothing.

    But then double up on my hygiene routine.

  39. DCGirl*

    I was on the receiving end of an anonymous note, and it really is a very upsetting place to be. Apparently, according to the note writer, my occasional gentle nose-blowing due to severe allergies to something in the ventilation system at the office (mold, mildew, dust? it was an old building) was the source of every illness that befell every person who worked there. I returned to lunch after work that, picked up the note that was left on my chair, and felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach.

    The fact that we all commuted on public transportation and passed through a very busy train station, picking up germs galore, was irrelevant. The fact that I was taking care of my 90+ year old grandmother at the time, and she never caught a cold or anything else from me, was irrelevant. The fact that I’d been checked out by my doctor, who confirmed that I’m allergic to dust, mold, and mildew was irrelevant. The note writer told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to stay home. I was certain I knew who it was. One day when I said I wasn’t feeling good she literally ran away from me, holding crossed fingers up like she was warding off a vampire. I wasn’t feeling good because I’d fallen on ice on the way to work, and my back was grumbling.

    Since I had such strong suspicions I did take it to HR. HR held a meeting with our team and explained the company’s harassment policy. The woman who did it went to our VP and confessed. I was made to attend a meeting at which she gave a textbook non-apology (“I’m sorry that you felt bad” instead of “I’m sorry that my actions made you feel bad”).

    I can’t tell you enough how incidents like this poison the working environment. I fall down on the side of taking incidents like this seriously (not overly seriously, but seriously).

      1. DCGirl*

        I didn’t blow my nose at my desk. Most of the time, it was more like wiping my nose because the allergies made my nose run a little, especially in the morning when the air system kicked on, but I would step out if needed. If she even saw me reach for the box of Kleenex she’d shoot me the hairy eyeball. She seemed to equate keeping a box of Kleenex on your desk with being Typhoid Mary. If you have a box of Kleenex, you must be sick, according to her. I was on her shit list for that reason alone.

  40. MommyMD*

    Your coworker did it in the wrong way but it’s not fair to want them to continue to “ignore” the issue as it’s obviously impacting them. Brushing your teeth right before work and after lunch will go a long way here. By ignoring it you’ll continue to alienate people which is not good for your general state. Best of luck. I don’t think they meant to hurt your feelings or are mocking you. Poor hygiene is one of the hardest subjects to broach.

  41. ChocolateBrownie*

    That sounds really painful for you, OP, I’m sorry.

    I feel that the person who left the mints probably did so out of care, wanting you to be aware of the problem without publicly embarrassing you by bringing it up in person. I’ve had friends with terrible breath before and it feels impossible to mention unless they specifically ask. An anonymous gift of mints is painful to receive but probably felt the best case scenario to the giver, when you consider how difficult it would have been for you to have someone tell you to your face without a way to save face or receive the message privately before reacting. No matter how it’s delivered, whoever makes the call to address the issue is gonna look like and feel like an ass for mentioning it.

    I doubt it was done spitefully but at least you are aware now and can take extra care, your co worker/s will benefit by you having addressed the issue and it can be put to rest. If I had bad breath I’d want someone to let me know in whatever way, even if it wasn’t one I’d prefer, than not say anything and be unknowingly offending others with my breath.

    I’m sorry for your pain and hope that you’re able to move past this when you feel ready.!

  42. Fake Eleanor*

    The difference between sending a message anonymously vs in person: The situation will be awkward and uncomfortable. Send your message anonymously and you’re dumping about 99% of the awkward on the other person. Do it in person and you’re accepting half of the awkward.

    Also, anonymous messages are much more likely to be misinterpreted because there’s not actually a conversation involved. You’re making the recipient do a lot more work reading the situation, and allowing them to assume the worst.

    If it’s important enough to send a message, it’s important enough to accept your share of the awkward.

    1. F M*

      I dunno; is it actually less awkward for the person receiving the information if there’s someone staring at them at the time? I would say that having the conversation in person is making it twice as awkward–everyone feels uncomfortable!–instead of less awkward–one person feels uncomfortable, but has space to compose themselves before interacting with someone else!–and thus demanding someone do it in person is a way of making things more awkward. Like, 2 Awkwardium emitted instead of .8 Awkwardium emitted.

      1. Fake Eleanor*

        I can see that, but by delivering the message anonymously, you’re taking on as little awkwardness as possible and leaving all of it for the other person. Making other people do the hard work … is not the basis for kind or polite behavior, at the very least.

        1. F M*

          But having a face-to-face conversation is making someone else do the hard work!

          If I have bad breath and someone discreetly leaves mints on my desk, I feel embarrassed and then relieved. If someone speaks to me face-to-face, I feel mortified, more uncomfortable because they’re witnessing my mortification, guilty because they’re clearly uncomfortable about it too… You’ve made my feelings three times worse, AND made yourself feel bad. I don’t think “Ah, we both feel terrible, how polite!”, I think “Wow, what an awkward way to handle this, why couldn’t they have been more discreet?” and “Well, now I’m going to feel awkward around this person for ages” and “I must have missed all their discreet hints if they’re telling me to my face, what an idiot I am!” and “I guess now I have to be hyper-vigilant to catch their future hints about mistakes I might be making.”

          I have to do more emotional work because of your “polite behavior” in telling me to my face, but I guess you get to feel better because you felt awkward too? How is that more kind?

      2. Amy*

        I actually think it’s the other way around! Anonymous messages open up whole new realms of awkward. It could be from anyone, so instead of feeling awkward with this one person, you get to feel awkward around all your coworkers–that’s exponentially more awkward than a conversation with one person. In the case of a vague message like a box of mints, you have to guess if it’s a message or just someone thinking you like mints–that’s at least one unit of awkward right there. And you get to feel judged with no ability to respond with something like “Yeah, it’s this new medication/illness/etc., I’m doing my best, hopefully it’ll improve soon”–another awkward, since mitigating factors like that usually make people feel a little more forgiving of things and you don’t get that chance.

        So having a face-to-face conversation might be 2 Awkwardium, but the anonymous mints is at least (2+1 vagueness+1 no chance to respond)^2 from not knowing who to be awkward with…which comes to 16 Awkwardium.

        1. F M*

          See, that’s not how I would feel; I would feel less awkward because it wasn’t attached to any given person. And I could just go “Well, maybe it’s mints, maybe it’s my breath… Good reminder to be more careful about my breath!”

          Maybe it’s an introvert/extrovert thing? Face-to-face conversation is 2+ Awkwardium for me, it’s apparently like 1 Awkwardium for you, but discreet mints is .8 Awkwardium for me and 16 Awkwardium for you.

    2. peachie*

      Yes! Don’t shove off your awkward on other people!

      (BTW–I love your name! If it’s referencing what I think it is, I just watched the end of the season last night, and O.M.G.)

    3. Close Bracket*

      It’s already awkward for the people smelling the bad breath. Why is the person with the offending breath the only person who shouldn’t have to deal with awkward?

  43. not my usual alias*

    OP, if you taking nothing else from these comments, please note that many people said would have preferred this scenario over a face-to-face confrontation. Maybe the person who left you the mints feels the same way. There’s a good chance they *thought* they were handling this in the kindest way possible to you, and did it because they have good feelings toward you.

  44. BananaPants*

    I disagree. Personally I would find it much better to have someone leave an anonymous note or mints at my desk than to have the awkwardness and embarrassment of a coworker approaching me to say it in person.

    I went through a 6 month stretch of having a severe gum infection and was limited in treatment options as I was simultaneously pregnant and suffering from near-hyperemesis gravidarum levels of nausea and vomiting. I *know* I had breath issues – at times I could taste the infection (which didn’t help the nausea) and people I trusted said that there was an odor (although not typical halitosis). I did the best I could with brushing at work and chewing sugar-free gum at my dentist’s recommendation, and I tried to avoid talking too close to anyone in meetings without gum in my mouth. My coworkers were aware of the gum infection and were kind and compassionate; they understood that it wasn’t for lack of effort or poor hygiene.

  45. Anon3*

    While this may not be a popular opinion I don’t enjoy being impacted by other people’s personal issues. While coworkers may be aware that the OP has some ongoing personal issues it is on the OP to mitigate the impact at work. OP even says that due to ongoing issues they have allowed personal hygiene to slip on multiple occasions. I think receiving the tic-tacs is embarrassing but perhaps it’s partly because the OP was hoping others didn’t notice or weren’t aware. If it’s consistent and/or long-term you can’t expect people to just ignore it when it obviously impacts them as well.

    1. Taylor Swift*

      Nobody enjoys being “impacted by other people’s personal issues”, but that’s impossible to avoid as a human being participating in human society. There are right ways to deal with them and wrong ways.

  46. Alice W*

    I am in the minority here but I don’t see why receiving tics tacs on your desk would cause such upset. I wouldn’t automatically think someone was telling me a had bad breath. Sure that could be why they left them, but it’s not as if someone left breath strips on your desk. I might think someone left them on my desk by accident or that someone was giving me a small gift of candy. And if I thought it could be a hint about bad breath, I would just think oops, I must have forgot to brush my teeth after a lunch heavy on garlic or something. I don’t see this a cruel act, although since the OP has a medical issue, I can see why she is especially sensitive about it.

  47. Jackie*

    I just have some hand lotion with a scent I like and apply as needed so I can hold the back of my hand to my nose to replace any offense odors I come across. . .especially on planes.

  48. Czhorat*

    When I went to management training for a large corporation this was literally an example of something to NOT do; the scenario “a report has bad breath” had the following options:

    1 – leave mints on their desk as a joke,- WRONG
    2 – make a lighthearted joke about it – WRONG
    2 – ask your boss – WRONG
    3 – Have a private conversation with them like an actual adult – RIGHT.

    We really do need to act like adults around eachother and, if it’s a tough conversation, then bite the bullet and have it.

    It amuses me to see this immediately following the emplyee with the chewing tobacco.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Standards are higher for managers and their direct reports than they are for co-workers due to the power imbalance.

  49. K*

    OP, since you’re already receiving treatment, please ask your medical professional about ways to help dry mouth. My cousin had dry mouth from medication that went on for years, and he ended up needing a lot of dental work. I had no idea – apparently less saliva to wash away bacteria and such can lead to tooth decay. My cousin uses some kind of candy his doctor recommended that makes him salivate more.

  50. Arduino*

    Ugh op I feel for you.

    My in laws are like this and it drives me bonkers. The worst one was when they left a receipt on our kitchen table as a “hint” to reimburse them for extra kitty litter they bought… While they were watching the house when we were out for my mom’s funeral….

    Then a month or so later they texted asking if we saw the receipt now that things have calmed down…..

    Um. No?

  51. EmilyAnn*

    I once had a co-worker with awful breath. I also saw her brush her teeth before major meetings and very quickly realized she was aware of the issue and likely was doing her best to control it. Therefore in 18 months of working with her I never mentioned it, nor discussed it with our co-workers. Is bad breath really that big of an issue that it needs a passive aggressive gift left on a desk?

    1. Princess Carolyn*

      I’m sure it would depend on the office and the nature of the work, but I’m surprised that anyone in OP’s office (presumably) noticed a pattern of bad breath. Other kinds of body odor can create a pretty obvious problem, but I’m rarely close enough to any co-workers to notice their breath. I’ve definitely never noticed the same co-worker’s breath on multiple occasions.

      1. Gabriela*

        Same. I admittedly have a dull sense of smell, but I don’t think I’ve ever in my life been around someone who’s breath was so bad that I was *affected* by it. I kind of assume almost everyone has bad breath at some point throughout the day.

      2. Temperance*

        I have chronic sinus infections and bronchitis. When I get sick, it can be really smelly and noticeable, even if you aren’t close to me or in my face. This has been pointed out by a few mean girls in grade school, a kindly teacher, my husband, and my mother, who famously called me the smelly kid in class for something that was her fault and not mine (allergic to secondhand smoke, constantly exposed to said smoke, chronic bronchitis and infections ensue).

        What I do to mitigate is sort of shut myself away, use lots of Scope, and take a sick day if I’m feeling especially gross. My mouth often tastes bad when I’m sick, and that’s how I know to hide.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      It depends on other factors. For example, if OP’s stretch of iffy hygiene included other bad body smells and obviously greasy hair, it might be a cumulative thing. It’s easier to leave mints on someone’s desk than to leave a stick of deodorant or a bar of soap (those items seem meaner than candy mints, somehow). There’s also a difference between “I brushed my teeth in the morning but then I had a long day of coffee and meals and overall staleness” type of breath and days of not brushing.

      I dunno, I don’t think this line of thought is really necessary. Body smells exist and OP isn’t denying that she has some body smells. I wouldn’t jump to the assumption that the coworkers were overselling the issue.

    3. Close Bracket*

      Depends on the breath. If it’s bad enough to warrant a gift of tic-tacs, then yes.

  52. Amy*

    I would open that box of tic tacs and leave one on each person’s desk before I left at the end of the day. Anonymous and petty …ha. I would really just ignore it I know its hard but…”you’re not at work to make friends” I always have to remind myself of that one…

    1. sunny-dee*

      Um, are you at work to make enemies?

      In this case, the OP admits freely that she has had long-term intermittent hygiene issues (which included not brushing her teeth) and now has bad breath and dry mouth as a result of medication. There is a real and actual issue here. It’s not some figment of the coworker’s imagination.

      If the OP were to do something like that, it wouldn’t make me think “oh, no, I accidentally hurt her feelings!” It would justify doing it anonymously because there is no flipping way I could have had a calm discussion with her without her reacting inappropriately.

      1. WPH*

        Yeah, I agree. I just don’t think the mint leaving was malicious or cruel. There was a very real issue and I really see this from the perspective of the coworkers. The OP admitted their hygiene had slipped and they had gone days without brushing their teeth. We know the reasons why but the coworkers don’t and they have been dealing with the very real and smelly consequences. How bad must it have been for someone to get up the gumption to do something even if the something wasn’t what OP preferred? How awkward must it have been for them and for how long? People keep mentioning the “platinum” rule but no one is putting themselves in the shoes of the coworkers.

      2. Arduino*

        Think you misread. The not at work to make friends line was more akin to don’t take it personally. She stated she would not really out a tic tac on each desk.

  53. Mobuy*

    Huh. I always think of tic tacs as really lame mint candies. My kids always want me to buy them in the checkout lane. Honestly, I wouldn’t even go to the bad breath reason if there was a culture of leaving cheap treats on people’s desks.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I never thought they did that much for bad breath. It seemed like once the candy was gone the breath was worse.

  54. MashaKasha*

    Aside from my one coworker that has no concept of personal space, I have no earthly idea what any of my coworkers’ breath smells like. Because they never stand that close! I, too, fail to understand why this is an issue big enough to warrant a confrontation (because, let’s face it, OP was confronted about her breath, albeit in an anonymous, passive-aggressive way).

    1. sunny-dee*

      I had a friend in college with bad breath, and it was noticeable from a couple of feet away. It just was. I have a couple of coworkers prone to coffee breath, and it’s noticeable in whiffs in casual conversation. And then a couple of coworkers who showered less frequently than they should have.

      If it happens consistently … yeah, you will notice. And depending on the severity, it can move from “mild occasional annoyance” to feeling like you need to hold your breath for eight hours a day.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Then we are talking about the kind of bad breath that is a severe medical condition and is not occurring just because the person does not know that Tic-Tacs exist. Nor will the Tic-Tacs make it go away and become nice-smelling breath. So, either way, I still don’t get the leaving of the Tic-Tacs on OP’s desk.

  55. LizB*

    OP, I have totally been in the situation where something that is probably totally innocuous or kindly meant hits my anxiety in a BIG way. When that happens to me, I’ve had some success with saying to myself, “Whoa, that was a huge anxiety trigger! I’m feeling super anxious about X Y and Z now!” and maybe journaling about it, trying to connect it to past trauma as an underlying cause, or discussing with my therapist if I remember at my next appointment. I may still feel anxious, but it helps me to remind myself that the shitty way I’m feeling is my brainweasels messing around again, and probably not a good reflection of reality.

    Thinking about this without brainweasels, it’s probable that whichever coworker left you the mints is one of those people who would prefer to receive anonymous mints than have a face-to-face conversation; I doubt they realized this would cause you such great distress. But it did, and I’m sorry you now have to deal with that distress. I honestly think that processing this through with your therapist may be the best way forward, in addition to Alison’s advice about speaking matter-of-factly about your situation if you’re comfortable doing that. This is a shitty no-win situation no matter how you slice it. I hope the new meds work really well for you, and the side effects diminish!

  56. Chatterby*

    If they were orange Tic-tacs, I’d assume they were meant as candy. White ones would be the bad breath message.

    There is no good way to handle hygiene situations, only varying shades of bad.

    Whenever an office hygiene situation letter pops up, it reminds me of a scene from James Clavell’s book, Shogun. The main character, a Portuguese man who has been given a household in Shogunate Japan, hung some bird fowl from the porch of his house. These started to rot and smell horribly. Rather than tell the man directly and offend him, the townspeople put up with it as long as they can bear, until they elect the oldest and sickest man amongst them to remove the birds and throw them away. Then they execute the old man for theft. The old man knew this would be his fate, to become the red herring excuse for getting rid of the birds without causing offense, but was willing to do it for the comfort of his fellows. The townspeople were just relieved.
    And I believe the Portuguese man remained ironically oblivious and had forgotten the birds entirely.

    1. nonegiven*

      In the book, John Blackthorne was the English navigator of a Dutch trading ship. The Portuguese Jesuits, at the time, controlled trade with Japan.

  57. Patricia*

    Wow, I completely disagree with so many who have posted. If I had bad breath, I would MUCH prefer receiving a package of tic tacs on my desk as an anonymous tip rather than have someone tell me to my face!

  58. Dry mouth too*

    Dry mouth advice.. I started using Biotene dry mouth toothpaste and mouth wash and their dry mouth moisterizing gel and it’s helped. Especially the gel. It tastes weird and feels odd but I’ve found it helps better than mints or lozenges. You put some on your tongue and Rin it around.

  59. Menacia*

    The OP states they work in a small, generally friendly office. I say. giving the Tic-Tac leaver the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they did not want to cause any undue stress on an already stressed person by having a face to face conversation? The writer admits to having some issues with their mental health which affected their personal hygiene in the past. In addition, they are on medication which causes dry mouth and low appetite which affects their breath. I say get ahead of this by taking it in the spirit in which it was delivered.

  60. BadPlanning*

    Hey OP, empathy on the dry mouth — I have had dry mouth side effect from medication. It was awful. Had I not experienced it myself, I would probably mock the Biotene commercials. But the desert graphics are very apt. So dry… So happy I did not have to continue that medication.

    This is me talking to your anxiety. For whatever reason, I also think of tic tacs as more candy that actual mint. I would say there is a possibility that someone left them as a treat. Especially if they were Minion themed or fruity.

  61. tiny temping teapot*

    This reminds me of that quote I am certain to mangle: be kind for everyone is fighting their own battles. I bet that the anonymous tictac thought they were being kind, for all the reasons people have stated above about not wanting the confrontation *for the OP’s sake* – I don’t think it was intended as cowardice. But it was absolutely the wrong kind of kindness for the OP. I wonder, if the giver had left a clear note like “I’ve noticed your breath can be a bit strong, maybe these will help?” – still anonymous but with none of the ambiguity that adds to the OP’s pain, that might be a better way to have been anonymous?

    If it had been me with my mental illnesses, I would have spent the day vacillating between trying not to cry and burning rage with a dose of planned petty mouthbrushing and flossing and making sure to say to people in the bathroom, “be careful or you’ll be the one getting tictacs on your desk.” This is not actually what I would tell anyone to do because it’s a reaction that accomplishes nothing and doesn’t even make me feel better.

    Honestly, good for you, OP for seeking advice and finding a way to a much better solution.

    1. Gabriela*

      Kind of like “Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence” (I probably butchered that). I don’t discount how awful it probably felt to the OP to get an anonymous “hint” (I am firmly pro-talk to my face), but I’ve found it’s much better for my state of mind to assume good intentions of people I generally get along with.

  62. JulieBulie*

    OP, is there someone that you can ask who will give you an honest opinion about your breath? Even if you suspect a problem, it might be helpful to know how severe it is and what you are dealing with.

    I’ve smelled some incredibly bad breath before (there’s a condition called “tonsil stones” that causes an especially potent stench), which could be detected from several feet away if that person was eating or talking. But it’s also possible that your breath isn’t really as bad as some unknown person might be hinting, or as you may be fearing. It might just be a little whiff from close-up.

    I also take medication that dries out my mouth. It’s important to keep your mouth wet, not only for your breath, but because a dry mouth can lead to cavities and gum disease. I can’t stand Biotene, but it is worth trying. I drink a lot of water, and the dryness isn’t as bad now as it was when I started taking the medication.

  63. Gov Worker*

    Discuss it with your supervisor and let her handle it from here on out. Its not appropriate for co-workers to attempt to correct odor issues and yours was chickenshit to leave those tic tacs. The person with the problem may be aware of it and is working to solve it. Or there may be underlying issues. Sorry this happened to you.

  64. BTW*

    I guess I’m definitely in the minority here but I would be way less embarrassed with someone handling it this way than having them say it to my face. If it came anonymously then I’d overall get the hint and take necessary steps but if one specific person said it to me, even a friend, I would forever be anxious about it in their presence from then on. I *personally* don’t find it cruel at all, quite the opposite actually.

    1. Chickaletta*

      I agree with you. The message was delivered and received, and whom it was from doesn’t really matter. Probably more than one person noticed. The OP seems very aware why the mints were left and that they had a suspicion even before this that they had a breath problem. Now they have confirmation on this. If it was me, I’d make a lighthearted comment like “I knew I was stinkin’ up the place. Sorry ya’ll.” and then go about my life, making sure there’s mints in my desk and poppin’ them in a few times throughout the day, and use most of my mental energy focusing and worrying about work instead.

  65. amy*

    I’m reading all these excuse-makers on not knowing how to speak up directly and politely, and listening to them blame some nebulous and and exceedingly narrow society, and thinking, you know, maybe making aliyah’s not such a terrible idea after all.

  66. amy*

    Look: various odors that happen because people are living organisms are not a big deal unless people make them a big deal. You say: “I know it’s not you, it’s nothing you’re doing, nothing is wrong with you, I just can’t handle the smell, so I’m going over here. Please do not get paranoid about it or think that I hate you. We can skype. Trust me, I have friends and coworkers on the other side of the world, we can manage twelve feet.”

    If you get hysterical about this, maybe you’ll also get hysterical when I tell you I’m allergic to your cat. I mean if you really want to feel terrible about your body or your cat, you can, but it’s not necessary.

    1. K*

      Except it is the OP and there is something wrong – there’s increased bacteria that smells because dry mouth is a side effect of the medication. I think offering to Skype to avoid the OP’s breath is cruel.

  67. Former Employee*

    I’m sorry the OP has health problems. I have recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease as well as having to have surgery for a condition that pre-dated the autoimmune disorder, but got to the point where surgery was required only after the autoimmune problem was discovered. They are unrelated conditions. I mention this not for sympathy, but rather so people know I am not someone who is in great health and just has no understanding of what it’s like to be dealing with medical issues.

    I would want to know. I would not want someone to tell me to my face other than a close friend or family member. Therefore, I would appreciate it if a co-worker were to leave me an anonymous note letting me know that they have noticed my breath (or whatever) has become unpleasant of late. Of course, I would be somewhat embarrassed, but I would also be grateful. Not only would I not want to inflict this on my co-worker(s), but I especially would not want our clients to have to deal with issue.

    To me, this is not mean. In fact, I see it as being a kind gesture. Maybe that’s just me.

  68. FiveByFive*

    It’s not just you. Actually it seems to be the majority opinion among the responses.

  69. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

    I once worked side by side with a lady in an isolated part of our teapot factory who was my “shift lead.” She not only had atrocious breath from abscessed teeth but horrific body odor. I’m talking rotting meat smell competing with eye watering fungus (?). She was a really nice person but with many deep-seated emotional problems that manifested in a life of poor choices and extremely low self esteem. Before I was there a week, I knew her life story and all of her many problems, including how her now-deceased mother used to tell her from childhood that she smelled because she was obese so she needed to take extra baths and showers. When telling me this she would usually choke up and start to cry, and then she would insist she took a shower every day but had never gotten over the criticism and was sure people made fun of her. And also that she couldn’t help her breath because she couldn’t afford to go to the dentist.

    I know this is judgmental, but I will say that while she couldn’t afford the dentist, she somehow afforded two packs of cigarettes a day and at least one trip to the casino a week. I am not exaggerating, it is just true. We did have very good dental insurance through the company, but her teeth were so far gone she was looking at thousands of dollars in copayments.

    In other parts of the teapot factory she quite frankly was a running joke and people were very cruel. I sat just far enough away from her to be able to turn my head if she came too near. Other employees used to ask me how I could stand her and I would stick up for her and say I really didn’t notice it because it was I felt sorry for her and I also have a huge need for a harmonious environment at work. With her fragile emotional state and being the only person she worked with, coupled with my own shy nature, there was no way in hell I ever would have said anything directly to her.

    Two incidents happened in the couple of years I worked with her. On the first incident, a vendor had apparently left a couple of cases of sample bars of Dove soap. The supervisors had apparently passed them out to the employees and not wanting to leave us out (night shift), had left one by each of our keyboards. She had come in and seen hers before I came into work. I came in that shift to find her sobbing and devastated. I hadn’t seen my soap and apparently she hadn’t either. For the hundredth time she repeated the story of her mother’s comments and how it made her feel and et cetera. When I found my soap I showed it to her and when I found out where and why it came to be, she was didn’t want to hear it, she refused to believe someone hadn’t done it on purpose to shame her. She sniffled about it all night (our shift) and talked about it constantly for at least a week, but nothing changed with regard to her hygiene.

    The second incident happened several months later when I came to work to find her crying again. Someone had reported her for poor hygiene to HR and our manager had talked to her. From what she told me, our manager had been very delicate and tried to chalk it up to “change of life” and hormones. Again, she was devastated and again she couldn’t let go of it for days and days. I would also like to add that in both instances, she was very troubled by “who could have done this to her.”

    I know this was a long post, but I thought it was a good example of how someone reacted to both indirect (and inadvertent) “hinting” and direct communication. Not everyone is the same and there likely is no perfect way to address hygiene with someone at work who you are not close to. I myself opted to not address it even though it really needed to be, because I did not feel it would be well received and I had to work with her one on one on a daily basis. If you’ve read this far, you might like to know that I’ve heard in recent years she was inspired by the company’s health initiative and a. quit smoking, b. lost “tons” of weight, and c. got her teeth fixed – and “looks like a new person.” I an really happy for her.

    1. i like clothes*

      Anastasia, I just read your post and I loved how you respected her as a fellow human being and person! Bravo! This post goes to show how everyone has a past and a story that they are living with, and it might not be visible to others. Very inspiring!

  70. ZeddicusMortis*

    I also have mental health issues, and I also take medication that causes me to have a dry mouth and low appetite. Knowing this, I always have a pack of gum in my purse and a backup pack in my drawer. I always have a bottle of water with me during the day as well and force myself to take regular sips.
    I have gone through days where waking up and getting out of bed is a struggle, yet the professional image I project at work is important enough to motivate me to drag my ass into the shower. It is not that hard to keep clean. I have a co-worker who regularly comes to work after a heavy night of drinking without showering, or who dresses from clothes in her car that often reek of sweat and smoke. No one has a positive opinion of her, management included. As adults, we are expected to be able to care for ourselves (unless you are really impaired like having autism or missing limbs, for example).
    I honestly don’t think a pack of mints left discreetly is such a bad way of finding out. It is awful to be in a position where you have to tell an adult that they need to take proper care of themselves – I certainly would not want to initiate such an awkward conversation. I actually think it is unreasonable to expect someone to do this. For all you know, others were mocking you, and this person was kind enough to step in and get the message to you, even if they didn’t have the courage to do so in person.
    I think you should take this as necessary criticism and work on improving. Working around this problem is as simple as chewing gum or popping a tick tack. The sooner you get back up and put this behind you, the better.

    As an asside, I know it sucks when you struggle with mental health – most of the time people don’t understand it. My coworker actually told me the other day that she agrees with Tom Cruise – there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance or depression. Go figure! I hope you are seeking proper treatment and I hope you get better soon.

  71. Engineer Woman*

    It’s terrible you feel badly, OP, but I’m with those that don’t see this is as a big issue. As I get from the comments, some people prefer to be told in person about stuff like this and others would actually prefer an anonymous note or the anonymous leaving of mints. I’m not quite sure, but I think I’m leaning towards the anonymous route.

    It’s clear you’re aware your health conditions can cause bad breath – that is good. If it were me, I’d just keep extra mints on hand and take more liberally. But then again, I don’t mind mints. I’m an optimistic person so I hope whoever left the mints isn’t mean spirited.

  72. itsallgood*

    I have irritable bowel and had a lot of my colon removed. I have to sometimes rush out of meetings because of these issues. I also sometimes have terrible gas that just….comes out. While I do my best, I am sure it’s evident at times. I decided to just be open about it, explain when appropriate that I have this issue and keep some air freshener in my office. One amazing thing that has happened is that some of the people who know about this are talking to their doctor about some of their similar issues and getting some help. So I think this whole embarrassing situation may actually do some good for someone. It was very embarrassing to me for a long time, but I’ve had to get over that. This situation isn’t going away and I am not going to let it ruin my life.

  73. Whoopsy*

    Wait, I’m not the only person who has hungrybreath? It’s a real thing??? This is extremely validating!

  74. Gloucesterina*

    A question to discuss: how do we determine if a person is on “TEAM ANONYMOUS NOTE/TICTAC GIFT” or “TEAM FRIENDLY DIRECT CONVERSATION USING SUGGESTED SCRIPTS” before approaching them about an issue?

    I’m also wondering how I decide which team I’m on myself. I’m not sure which approach I would prefer if I am the person with offending body smells. How do I find out for myself and express those preferences?

  75. Cindy*

    I think I have a different take on this other than the offender is passive aggressive. I would think that leaving the tic tacs anonymously on the poster’s desk would be to preserve her dignity. No one wants to be confronted with this issue, and this was a way to let her know without that confrontation.

    Why not just set aside the hurt feelings, and take it in the spirit it was probably meant, to benefit her?

  76. Rachel*

    She needed a mint, and now she has some mints for free. It’s done. No, this wasn’t the most tactful or respectable way to let her know that her breath stinks, but she knows now and can take action. Honestly, asking around the office to see who left the mints is just being petty about something that really isn’t a big deal.

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