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Nunchi, or the art of reading emotions

by | Nov 11, 2021 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Nunchi is quite the buzzword when we talk about social intelligence. How did this Korean concept make it into the mainstream? Nunchi (눈치, pronounced noon-tchee), a Korean word meaning literally “eye-measure,” is the ability to accurately read others’ mental states by the subtlest of cues and to use this information to steer social situations.

This 5000 year old Korean ‘secret to success’ claims to make one richer, happier and above all, more socially equipped to deal with the many moods a crowd of people can bring. A person with “quick” nunchi can rapidly assess the overall mood and nature of relationships and hierarchies within any given social setting — and know how to respond appropriately.

Why nunchi matters

The world has been going back to work and is finding it very difficult. I work from home but most of my clients don’t anymore. And I’ve been hearing a lot of stories. 

When you’ve spent months working on your own, it can be difficult to readjust to being around others. We’ve all lost some social aptitude over repeated lockdowns, which makes it particularly tiring for everyone involved. It’s not just that co-workers aren’t sure how to greet each other any more (I’m French – can we still kiss hello?). Navigating each others’ spaces and reading each other’s moods has become more complex. 

That’s where nunchi comes in. 

Nunchi is awareness

Nunchi is rooted in the idea of ‘think more than you speak’, spend your time actively assessing the people in the room and act only when necessary. Take your time to understand the many moods that encompass the room and base your response only upon understanding the energy of the room and the individuals. 

Nunchi is reading between the lines

Nunchi wants you to read between the lines, to understand non-verbal behaviour in ways that can benefit you. It wants you to live by the assumption that different people react to different things in different ways. 

Nunchi is empowering 

When you pay close attention to other people’s states of mind, you become better equipped to deal with any situation. You have more information and you are more sensitive to the subtleties involved, making you a better and more compassionate leader. 

Applying nunchi to yourself 

Working on developing your nunchi skills is a great goal, especially post pandemic. And how about developing “quick nunchi” on your own self too? 

Here are a few tricks to help you apply the concepts of nunchi both with others and yourself 

  1. “Scan the room”

Details matter just as much as the big picture. You want to develop the ability to “zoom in” and “zoom out” so that you can absorb what is going on at all levels. If you’re in a meeting, pay attention to the environment as well as each person present, their facial expression and their demeanour. You can also scan your own emotional state in the same way that you would scan a room full of people. 

  1. Collect data 

Make a mental note of what is going on, both physically and mentally. Your gut feeling gives you just as important information as other, more tangible things. All that will help you make better decisions. In your meeting, what are people doing? Do you feel people are focused or distracted? How about your inner state and your demeanour? How are you sitting in your chair? And what is going on in your mind? Are you worried, anxious, or focused? 

  1. Be non-judgemental 

Your ability to skillfully “scan the room” and collect data will depend on how non-judgemental you can remain. Our biases often affect how and what we see. If you have a difficult relationship with Marie from accounting who’s sitting in the meeting, this might cloud your analysis. Similarly, if you’re constantly criticising yourself, you won’t be objective when observing what is going on inside your mind. 

  1. Silence is powerful 

You don’t always have to act. Allowing yourself to be silent will enable you to become better at analysing and give you more time and bandwidth to make informed decisions. 

  1. Manners, manners, manners

It might seem obvious that you should be kind and respectful to others, but do you apply the same rules when dealing with yourself? Setting rules as to how you talk to yourself and ensuring you remain kind and respectful will transform your inner dialogue, and therefore your life. If you don’t say “shut up, what you’re saying is stupid” to your colleague, you certainly shouldn’t say it to yourself. 

  1. Read between the lines 

Not all is what it seems. In fact, most of the time, nothing is what it seems. Be curious and open your mind. Marie from accounting may appear bored, looking at her phone while you speak. But perhaps she’s checking on her sick child. Similarly, you may feel irritated by what a colleague said, but this could hide the fact that you’re tired from a poor night’s sleep or that you’re sensitive about a particular topic. 

Emotional intelligence is, basically, being smart about emotions. Both your own and that of others. Don’t know where to start? Maybe I can help. You can book a discovery session (free) here.

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