While bumping into an acquaintance at an event or venue somewhere you must have had these uncanny conversations yourself occasionally. The acquaintance asking you without any greeting or formalities: “What are you doing here?”.

If asked neutrally it could be considered a factual question. But most curiously it is plain obvious why you are present at the same event; namely exactly for the same reason as the one asking… :seeing a nice game or concert, enjoying a party thrown by a friend, having dinner, getting information and being able to network, etc. etc..

Normally though the question is voiced with a strange pitch clearly expressing surprise and almost disbelieve; sometimes bordering on bewilderment.

When asked this question I always have the feeling that I am not supposed to be there, that I have to explain myself, even to justify myself. I am forced into a defensive mode. In any case these conversations go nowhere and never recover from the horrible start. Trapped in a conversation where you try to be cordial and polite, going through the motions and (both) looking for a way out of the obviously unwanted encounter.

Just last Friday I bumped into somebody at a startup meeting in Amsterdam whose opening sentence was exactly what you can imagine by now, tone of voice included, emphasizing YOU and HERE. Instead of accepting that I had to justify myself and accepting to have an up hill conversational battle from the start I bounced back the question with a little twist:

“Well, it is extremely obvious why I’m here… but what the hack are you doing here?”.

It did not change the course of the conversation much but at least I was able to come out without the lousy feeling that normally resides after such an encounter.