How to Counsel on Personal Hygiene

DON'T HESITATE. Many NCOs are hesitant or reluctant to counsel a Soldier on their personal hygiene because it's perceived as insulting.

It's not insulting. It's just a fact of life. Some people are smelly from time to time and need to be reminded. Being smelly doesn't make them a freak. We are ALL smelly at one time or another. It's the human condition. In addition, we have all been educated on the standards of grooming since basic training so the hard work has already been done. We only have to remind them.

Notwithstanding the above, people still consider the topic a delicate one and the following techniques are offered to soften the blow of a counseling on personal grooming standards:

1. DELIVER WITH OTHER TOPICS. Address the issue in a regular, periodic counseling with several other issues so that all the focus isn't on personal hygiene. That will lessen the emphasis on the issue. When you do this, you run the risk of the person receiving the counseling not taking it as seriously as she might have if it had been the only topic addressed. But, if this is the first time hygiene needed to be discussed, it's appropriate to approach it this way.

2. RELATE TO YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE. If true, build comradery by relating your own exprience, as in, "I was counseled for this once...", "At the time, I was not aware of...", and "The problem turned out to be...and was easily corrected by...". This will help prevent the person being counseled from taking your counseling too personally.

3. GROUP WITH OTHERS. If possible, instead of writing, "SGT Sullivan, you are smelly", write, "several members of this shop need to be reminded of grooming standards" or "SGT Young, SGT Sullivan, and SGT Ortiz have arrived at work without showering". It lessens the emphasis on the person receiving the counseling when they are a member of a group. This is sort of cowardly and not always possible. It's best to be direct.

4. ANNOUNCE A CHANGE IN STANDARDS. To be even more considerate of the Soldier's feelings, you could write something like: "although this behavior was acceptable at one time or in garrison, it is not acceptable here or now because...". This implies that their behavior was acceptable at one time and not that offensive but still needs to be changed.

5. GROUP WITH OTHER, LESS CONTROVERSIAL SOCIAL ISSUES. If you list personal hygiene as a topic along with several other social behaviors, it will lessen the sting of being identified as odorous. Examples of other social topics are answering the phone correctly, escorting visitors, social distancing, reporting for duty on time, equal opportunity, etc.

6. BREAK DOWN THE PROBLEM INTO ITS COMPONENT PARTS. If you identify a list of the steps required to reach personal grooming goals, it focuses on the details and not the person. This invites objectivity and should be the focus of all counseling. Counseling should address facts not feelings.

7. MAKE THE COUNSELING APPEAR ROUTINE. If you can make the counseling look as if it is regularly delivered to others, and not just her, it will make the recipient feel less like an oddball. This can be accomplished by making a counseling template dedicated to the subject of hygiene with a blank line for the name. Seeing a counseling like this implies that it is so frequently delivered that the NCO maintains a template on which she just adds the name of the person being counseled.

Reference: TC 4-02.3, Field Hygiene and Sanitation and AR 670-1, Section 3-2.d. Hygiene and Body Grooming.

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