Author Topic: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?  (Read 4458 times)

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reflection5

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"Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« on: April 16, 2013, 09:19:52 PM »
I saw in another thread that some feel the question “Have I offended you?” is accusatory.  I’m not sure I understand why.

Is it because the question asks for an explanation?
Is it because the question implies you (general) are doing or have done something wrong?

Examples:

A former co-worker started treating me rather cool, and when I attempted to chat she looked away and became intensely engrossed in the papers on her desk.  This puzzled me a little – I hadn’t done anything to her that I was aware of.  So, I left her alone and didn’t make any overtures for a long time.  Eventually, she came to me and asked “Have I offended you?”  I didn’t find her question accusatory.  She knew something was off-kilter, we talked about it, and fixed it.

A former supervisor was curt with me for a few days and barely spoke.  I asked “You seem to be angry at me.  Is something wrong?”  Well, there was something wrong but it had nothing to do with me.  The point is that I don’t think my question was accusatory.

A relative who I’m not particularly close to took me aside and asked “Have I offended you?”  I frowned because I thought the question was weird, but not accusatory.

So, my question is:  Why is “Have I offended you?” seen as accusatory?
« Last Edit: April 16, 2013, 09:22:19 PM by reflection5 »

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2013, 09:27:19 PM »
It depends upon the tone of voice in which this question is spoken.

If the question is read from a book or this forum, it has no tone of voice to give the reader a clue. If a person is having a bad day (for example), it could come across as accusatory.

MommyPenguin

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2013, 09:30:16 PM »
I think it also depends on the relationship.  The reason people were so affronted by it in that other thread was that the OP and the neighbor barely knew each other and were friendly when they saw each other.  So the "have I offended you" when the OP was friendly and normal with the neighbor was meant to put her off-balance, thinking, "Wait, what have I done?  How did I make this guy think I was offended?  Was I not friendly enough?"  It's totally different in a situation where somebody really *is* acting differently, and when you have a relationship that justifies bringing it up.

reflection5

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2013, 09:57:46 PM »
Agree that tone definitelt comes into play.  The times I've been asked the question the other person sounded sincere.

OTOH, "Do you have a problem with me?" in a snide or angry tone would sound accusatory.

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2013, 10:04:58 PM »
Well, the question implies, "you are not treating me with the level of friendliness/openness I expect."

It can be a healthy, sincere way to clear the air and reconcile some strain in the relationship.  But it all depends on what the person expects, and whether their expectations are appropriate.

It can also be used intentionally to put someone on the defensive.  If there is NO reasonable expectation, it does sound pushy.
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Surianne

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2013, 10:14:13 PM »
Well, the question implies, "you are not treating me with the level of friendliness/openness I expect."

It can be a healthy, sincere way to clear the air and reconcile some strain in the relationship.  But it all depends on what the person expects, and whether their expectations are appropriate.

It can also be used intentionally to put someone on the defensive.  If there is NO reasonable expectation, it does sound pushy.

I agree.  If it were asked by someone I didn't know well, I could see it as them expecting some level of closeness I wasn't comfortable with.  It completely depends on the relationship and the context in which it is asked, to me. 

I don't know the thread the OP mentions, so I have no idea if it was accusatory or not.

Onyx_TKD

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2013, 10:17:48 PM »
I think it also depends on the relationship.  The reason people were so affronted by it in that other thread was that the OP and the neighbor barely knew each other and were friendly when they saw each other.  So the "have I offended you" when the OP was friendly and normal with the neighbor was meant to put her off-balance, thinking, "Wait, what have I done?  How did I make this guy think I was offended?  Was I not friendly enough?"  It's totally different in a situation where somebody really *is* acting differently, and when you have a relationship that justifies bringing it up.

I agree.

OP, in your examples, the asker had an established relationship with the askee and thus a baseline for what was "normal" interaction in their relationship. They asked the question after noticing a change in how they interacted. If someone you interact with on a regular basis starts acting differently towards you, then it's reasonable to assume that something has changed. In that context, sincerely asking "Have I offended you?" is IMO not accusatory. (However, the asker needs to accept that it's not a magical fix--the askee might decline to discuss it or say "no" but continue to be cool.)

The question in the other thread was not asked within an established relationship. The OP of that thread was in the process of establishing a perfectly polite "baseline interaction" with her new neighbor. That baseline was apparently less chummy than the neighbor wanted, but it was polite, reasonably friendly, and it was the level of interaction that poster was comfortable with. Since there has been no change in the tone of their interactions, asking "Have I offended you?" implies that the poster's polite, cordial neighborliness is wrong or inadequate. IOW, it implies that "normal" neighbor interactions should be warmer and friendlier, so her failure to be that warm and friendly must be the result of some offense. It ignores the more likely possibility that she just has different standards for neighborly relations than he does, and isn't interested in upgrading him from "neighbor" to "friend." Asking if he offended her puts the onus on her to explain that she doesn't want to be his friend, without being "mean."


I don't know the thread the OP mentions, so I have no idea if it was accusatory or not.
Other thread: http://www.etiquettehell.com/smf/index.php?topic=126607.0

Hawkwatcher

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2013, 10:24:40 PM »
I think it also depends on the relationship.  The reason people were so affronted by it in that other thread was that the OP and the neighbor barely knew each other and were friendly when they saw each other.  So the "have I offended you" when the OP was friendly and normal with the neighbor was meant to put her off-balance, thinking, "Wait, what have I done?  How did I make this guy think I was offended?  Was I not friendly enough?"  It's totally different in a situation where somebody really *is* acting differently, and when you have a relationship that justifies bringing it up.

I was one of the posters in the other thread and your post explains perfectly my reaction to the neighbor.  If the OP in that thread had simply stopped talking to him after being a close friends, I could understand why he would ask "Have I offended you?" But they were not close friends and her behavior had not changed toward him. 

I also think that this question can be used as a manipulation tool by some people.  I have had sales representatives who have asked me if they offended me after the 4th time that I have told them that I am not interested in their product.  I suspect that they are more interested in trying to manipulate me into buying their product than they are concerned about my feelings. 

Now if a close friend asked me that question, I would not be offended.  I would also honestly answer her question.

reflection5

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2013, 10:31:06 PM »
Onyx_TKD, I'm getting there.  Thanks.  :)
Earlier today I saw a clerk at convenience store – I see him maybe once every month or so.  We’re friendly but that’s all.  However, today when I was at register if he had asked me “Have I offended you?”  I’d think …..huh?  ???  The question would completely throw me and would make no sense.  I would have gotten in the car and told my companion "That guy is strange; I have no idea what he was getting at".

As I think back to the other thread, it seems neighbor was kind of asking "Why don't you like me?", whihc is childish.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2013, 10:35:16 PM by reflection5 »

bopper

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2013, 09:16:07 AM »
I agree with Onyx. It all implies that "I am perfectly awesome and you are not BFFs with me so clearly YOU have some issue."

Twik

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2013, 09:23:50 AM »
I know a lot of people roll their eyes when "The Gift of Fear" is mentioned yet again. However, there are a couple of things in the conversation from the opening post in this saga that would make me concerned he's a manipulator.

"Have I offended you in some way?" - Well, assuming the OP is not offended (yet), this is designed to produce reassurances that no, one is not offended in the least. In fact, it may make the person addressed try to act friendlier than normal, just to prove that she is not offended, because it implies the speaker has sensed an unusual coldness, even rudeness, in her responses to him.

"You act shy around me" - same thing. This is designed (I think even more than the first phrase) to try to make the person addressed try to disprove the assumption that they are "shy" or not being friendly enough with the speaker.

Together, I'm getting the feeling that there is some manipulation going into making the OP say, "No, of course, I'm not offended. I'm not shy or withdrawn either. Here, I'll prove it - I'll be right over so we can drink beer together and *really* talk, OK?" Probably not "you enter his apartment and are never heard from again" type manipulation, but quite possibly "you have that beer, and now he's convinced you're his girlfriend and won't go away," manipulation.
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Calistoga

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2013, 11:07:45 AM »
For me, it depends entirely on how long I've been around a person. A girl I work with came after me the day I met her and wanted to know if she'd done something to offend me... and no, she hadn't, I just don't talk much to strangers. In an instance like that I felt like my behavior was being called in to question way too early.

My MIL frequently asks if she's done something to make me mad, and I don't mind that as much, because she knows how I act and can tell when I'm acting differently.

When it's someone I know asking because I seem to be acting off, I don't mind. When it's a stranger who wants to know why we aren't braiding each others hair over mai tai's, I get annoyed. It smacks of behavior modification.

bopper

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2013, 02:13:25 PM »
I know a lot of people roll their eyes when "The Gift of Fear" is mentioned yet again. However, there are a couple of things in the conversation from the opening post in this saga that would make me concerned he's a manipulator.


I agree with Twik.  This new neighbor is trying to make the OP feel guilty for not being more friendly.

bah12

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2013, 02:31:10 PM »
I think it depends on context.  In general, the phrasing "have I offended you" can imply that the recipient is doing something 'wrong'...as in, their actions are so off that it warrants discussion.  And some people may not take that well.  Also, it sort of makes their actions about the asker.  Like you pointed out in the OP, sometimes something can be wrong and it have nothing to do with you, so asking such a pointed question "what did I do to you", will put people on the defensive.

I think that in most cases, the question "Is everything ok?" or "Are you alright?" is much better for communicating that you notice that something is off and want to give the receiver a chance to talk about things if they wish.  It doesn't mean that any other phrasing is rude, but some phrases are just better suited for expressing concern than others...less likely to be misinterpreted. 

Allyson

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Re: "Have I offended you?" - why is that 'accusatory'?
« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2013, 03:10:41 PM »
I much prefer 'is everything OK', particularly because, thinking about it, it'd be really odd to use that phrase on someone you're less acquainted with. I feel like, anyone where 'is everything OK' wouldn't make sense is probably not close enough for 'have I offended you?' to be an OK thing to say. Also, 'have I offended you' makes the assumption that it's All About the speaker, whereas 'is everything OK' comes off as much more concerned and compassionate, not assuming the problem is interpersonal.