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I would like to know how to ask someone about something without accusing them.

If I want to know if someone at work has used my computer, can I ask "Have you used my computer?", without insulting them?

I know that if I were to say: "Have you been using my computer?" it sounds like I think the person has indeed used my computer and I am not happy about it, but that is not what I mean.

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    Hey Anouk! Welcome to Interpersonal Skills. One of the answers you've got so far is making the assumption that your 'goal' isn't really to ask a question without sounding accusatory, but that it actually is about preventing someone from using your computer. Can you clarify if the computer usage is just 1 example of this problem and your question is a bit broader (about asking about stuff in general), or whether the computer usage is really the only problem here and you want to just know if it was used or stop the person using it? – Tinkeringbell Nov 13 at 10:17
  • Is it your personal computer, or is it property of the company you work for? – Aaron F Nov 13 at 10:17
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    Is it an expectation of your workplace that co-workers commonly share a computer? From a security perspective I would recommend locking it to the log-in screen before walking away. What is the context of your question? Did you leave it unlocked? Is there no password? Does everyone use a single account? Why does it matter if they used your computer? Is there a follow-up question for the co-worker? The severity of the situation is going to heavily dictate how you should present your question. Can you state a meaningful goal in asking this question? – MonkeyZeus Nov 13 at 15:52
  • @Tinkeringbell where does it sound like the OP is asking to prevent someone from using their computer? – Chillin' Nov 14 at 9:33
  • @Chillin' I'm not really seeing it either, but one of the answers to this question assumes that's the 'real' problem. So asking Anouk to clarify a little in this case won't hurt :) On that note, I'm going to park this question as 'on-hold' until this is clarified. – Tinkeringbell Nov 14 at 9:34
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I tend to ask very generally about the issue when I find myself in such situations.

ie. instead of "Have you used my computer?", I would say:

It looks like my computer got moved since I last used it, you haven't noticed anything have you?

In this way my question is limited to the thing you noticed that made you suspect someone used your computer, I've used this sort of phrasing many times and have never had the other person appear offended, sometimes I've even ended up with a useful clue I never thought to suspect.

Even in the cases where I still suspect the other person despite the question, asking this way makes them aware that you've noticed and had concerns about your computer which can help deter them from continuing.

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    "It looks like someone's been sitting in my chair, you haven't noticed anything, have you, Goldilocks?" – Headcrab Nov 14 at 6:47
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This is something I used to run into with my college roommates. It's all too easy to go from "Is this your bowl in the sink?" to "Yea, but you leave your clothes in the washer for days, so who cares?" to a downward spiral with no end.

In my years living with messy people, my chief advice here would be to ask yourself:

What's your actual goal here?

Certainly it's not just to accuse your coworker of using your computer and then be upset with them. More likely, you're probably asking so that you can lay down a boundary and let them know that you don't want them doing something like that in the future.

So instead of trying to figure out whether or not they're in the wrong (which will sound accusing no matter how you do it--you're trying to accuse them after all!), approach this by trying to solve the deeper issue. Regardless of whether or not they used your computer, that's a boundary that you want to exert.

I may say something like:

Hey Fred! I know different people have different feelings about their computers and that I often leave mine lying around. I just wanted to let you know though that it makes me uncomfortable when other people use it without asking me. If you see anyone using my computer when I'm not around, could you let them know? Thanks!

This does a couple things--it let's them know how you feel about your computer and what your boundary is. And it also avoids accusing them by recruiting them to help enforce it. In fact, you're even putting them in a position of trust here--quite the opposite of an accusation!

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I usually find what works is phrasing it a bit like "I don't mind, but just wondering if you were using my computer?" - You could add in a bit about why you need to know or if you are just curious, add "just curious..."

  • From the OP's wording sound like he's not happy about it he just doesn't want to sound accusatory. Your answer in that case would involve lying to the other person. – nzn Nov 13 at 13:57
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    @nzn - that's not how I'd interpret it... "it sounds like I think the person has indeed used my computer and I am not happy about it, but that is not what I mean." – colmde Nov 13 at 14:00
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    I do like using 'just curious' for some slightly prying questions but in this case it still preempts an accusatory question so I don't think this would quite work – BKlassen Nov 13 at 16:02

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