What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

LOOK ME IN THE EYE AND TELL ME MY PERFUME STINKS: or WHY CAN’T PEOPLE TALK TO EACH OTHER DIRECTLY?

Earlier this week I participated in a local radio talk show, in a segment that I had expected to be mainly about perfume, but which, in the end, degenerated into a discussion of whether people should talk to their neighbors or co-workers directly about things that bother them. The original issue was whether workplaces should have official, codified no-fragrance policies, but it quickly  broadened out to the issue of why people, at least in the US Pacific Northwest, are psychologically unable to talk to anyone one-on-one. 


I am not a fan of micromanagement of any kind, so am not in favor of mandated fragrance-free spaces, at least not when it comes to people’s discreet use of personal fragrance. The idea of a fragrance-free space is a fantasy anyway, given that every building has its own set of “fragrances” emanating from the structural components, furniture, and other installations. Anyone ever smelled particleboard? Let me tell you, it’s not a pretty fragrance, and the off-gassing is probably toxic to boot. Ever smelled fresh carpets with their horrible formalin- and cyclic-hydrocarbon-filled-underpads? What about older carpets filled with a mixture of ground-in grime, carpet cleaner, and rotting underpads? What about the “air fresheners” that are used to mask all of the building odors? Compared to the typical cacaphony of public building-generated odors, personal fragrance is a tiny blip in the noise. 

I’m certainly not a fan of being in a space where someone is wearing way too much obnoxious (by my standards) perfume. If it’s a one-time or occasional thing, I ignore it, knowing that it’s a minor temporary annoyance. If it were a colleague with whom I regularly shared a confined space, I would simply ask them face-to-face if they could go easy on the perfume. If I had a health condition that was aggravated by the smell of perfume, I would let the offender know and ask them to not wear that perfume, or any perfume, if it really was that serious. I trust that most people can exercise reasonable sensitivity and consideration of others if they know what the issue is. If they’re not told, how can they know? 


I articulated this common-sense view in the discussion, but it seems that most people did not agree, and would instead avoid talking to the person who wears perfume, and instead take the route of informing their supervisors or HR department and asking for a set of fragrance-free workplace rules. It was mentioned that one person’s workplace actually had a set of rules many pages in length. If the workplace really is one where people should not wear perfume (e.g., a hospital), then when workers are hired, the supervisor could politely ask each new employee not to wear perfume, and explain why. Compliance with requests is usually best when the person being asked knows why the request is being made. Slapping people with rules that seem arbitrary (or are arbitrary), just creates resentment. 

Going over a colleague’s head and reporting them to management for some real or imagined “misbehavior” without talking to the colleague directly first, is likely to create major resentment and undermine morale. The people doing the complaining probably like this strategy because it can be done anonymously (assuming the organization is large enough) and relieves them of any responsibility for initiating a one-on-one encounter that they may fear might be awkward. It seems more and more people are avoiding person-to-person conversations as the opportunities for taking the cowardly route of anonymous confrontation increase. 

What are your thoughts on these issues? 

[Images adapted from Wikimedia and some random Google searches]

13 comments:

  1. What appears to be a trend toward “anonymous confrontation” might be symptomatic of a real lack of simple interpersonal skills and a knowledge of basic etiquette. It must be difficult for people to be comfortable interacting in the real world when their lives are lived in virtual reality.

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    1. Azar, yes, the disconnect from the real world is indeed the biggest contributing cause to lack of interpersonal skills (and life skills in general).

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  2. I agree that an increased reliance on relatively anonymous social media leads to a rise in incivility and sense of entitlement. People don’t know how to communicate with each other and learn how to compromise to get along. Using an intermediary (technology or an HR person) to resolve issues encourages a lack of empathy. Unfortunately, I don’t see this trend changing any time soon.

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    1. Anne, unfortunately the trend is only going to get worse barring some natural catastrophe that makes people disconnect from their proxies and communicate with each other directly.

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  3. Working in retail there are many a day that I experience a customer wishing to do a return while having a full conversation on their phone. They expect my service to be done without thought or gesture. And sometimes they actually complain about me - saying I was rude speaking loudly to them.
    I think, for many, this has become a concentrated self-centered society with people not caring for others but where we all must conform to the choice of five auto paint colors and wear our blue jeans and leggings. Don’t look different and don’t wear a classic 1980’s powerhouse fragrance least you offend someone.
    Well thank goodness I still walk to the beat of my old drum. I still have only a flip phone and that is because phone booths don’t exist anymore. I don’t text. I have long phone conversations and email. And while working retail, I enjoy the eye-to-eye contact and making a person laugh or smile before they leave the counter. I wish more people were like me because I would tell you , as I have, if the Patchouli you have soaked in is leaving a 8-foot trail or you have a black sesame seed in your teeth.

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    1. Martin, it sounds like you offer wonderful customer service. It's too bad some people don't appreciate it. Good for you!

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  4. It does seem kind of cowardly to go above a coworkers head and basically lounge a complipant about their perfume, instead of talking to them about it, now if its a body odor situation,I can see talking to HR or the supervisor, because you do not want to offend the person. But people today do seem to have a lack of interpersonal skills and empathy partly do to social media and not interacting face to face with real people. Talking to someone politely and explaining why their fragrance may bother you is fine.

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    1. Nelle, I think any situation, be it perfume, body odor, food odors, or something else, should be dealt with one-on-one, not indirectly. That is the friendly way to solve problems.

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  5. I have coworkers who have had what they consider bad experiences at restaurants and refused to communicate this to their servers during the meal. They would rather complain to the manager after the fact or write a scathing review on Yelp instead of trying to resolve the problem with the server at the time. It’s definitely a lack of interpersonal skills and not knowing how to communicate properly. They still feel entitled to complain about it though.

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    1. Triniti, I have seen this, too, especially in food service. I don't know why people feel like they can't complain about anything if it is obviously unsatisfactory.

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  6. Gosh, yes. Brave new world. I like to think there are still plenty of people out there who don't live 24/7 on their smartphones, but for the many who do, the ability to initiate real-life person-to-person contact seems to have become atrophied. (I guess I sound like an old fogey...I'm just barely old enough to remember a time when strangers together in a public space would occasionally actually speak to one another). Anyway, it's definitely maddening to find people have "gone over your head" or otherwise sought 3rd party mediation of a dispute they have with you. It makes me think, "Gosh, do they think I am some kind of ogre? Or am I not even worth their time?" So dehumanizing...and don't get me started on "fragrance-free" workplaces. LOL





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    1. Claire, I agree with everything you say. Life would be so much easier if people could actually talk to each other.

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