Korean parents believe that teaching their children nunchi is as important as teaching them to cross the road safely. In fact, journalist and author of The Birth of Korean Cool, Euny Hong, is so convinced that nunchi is the secret to happiness and success that she’s written an entire book on it.
Why did she get promoted? Why does the party only start when he walks in? And why do they always catch the bartender’s eye? According to one expert, each of these people are experts in the art of nunchi, even if they don’t know it.
So what the hell is ‘nunchi’, we hear you ask? Nunchi is the guiding principle of Korean life; it’s the art of reading a room, your way of understanding what other people are thinking and feeling, and using that to get ahead.
“If you’re thinking ‘not another Eastern fad, Marie Kondo already made me throw half my clothes away’, don’t worry: it’s not a fad,” she said. “Koreans have been using nunchi to overcome slings and arrows for over 5000 years. The great news is that anyone can hone their nunchi, immediately: all you need are your eyes and ears. In everything, from finding love to excelling at work, improving your nunchi will help you to open doors you never knew existed.”
Here, Euny an extract from her book, The Power Of Nunchi: The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success.
The Korean word ‘nunchi’, which translates literally to ‘eye-measure’, is often referred to as the Korean superpower. It’s the art of reading the room – of instantly understanding what people are thinking and feeling, in order to foster harmony and connection in the way you interact with people. Having great nunchi means continuously recalibrating your assumptions based on any new word, gesture or facial expression you observe in other people, so that you are always present, aware and making the best possible impression. And you already possess the tools of nunchi– your eyes and your ears.
If you’re thinking, ‘Not another Eastern fad! I’ve already thrown half my clothes away thanks to Marie Kondo’, let me tell you it is no fad. Koreans have been using nunchi for over five thousand years. It is interwoven into their lives from childhood, and from the time Korean children first learn to speak, their parents instil in them the importance of nunchi. As a life lesson it’s right up there with ‘Look both ways before crossing the street’ and ‘Don’t hit your sister’.
And Koreans are living proof that nunchi works. South Korea has evolved itself from one of the world’s poorest nations to now one of the richest, most technologically advanced, and arguably coolest countries on the planet in only sixty years. The popularity of K-Pop, Korean beauty brands and more is all down to Koreans’ ability to look outside themselves to what other people, or in this case, countries ‘need’. Their success is all down to nunchi.
So what can nunchi do you for in your personal life? A well-honed and quick nunchi can help you choose the right partner in life or business, it can help you shine at work, it can protect you against those who mean you harm, and it can even reduce social anxiety. Nunchi truly is the currency of life. Nunchi empowers even those of us who choose silence over noise, introversion over extraversion, delicacy over bluntness. Koreans call nunchi ‘the secret weapon of the disadvantaged’, but anyone can use their nunchi – all you need are your eyes and your ears.
You can become a nunchi ninja – the great thing about nunchi is that, unlike meditation or exercise, you can see Nunchi’s effects immediately. Here are some tips:
Need to have a touchy conversation? Read between the lines. Have you ever noticed that the more important a topic is, the less likely people are to say what’s really on their minds? That’s why you need nunchi.
Your own eyes and ears will tell you what the other person is not saying.
- Going to a new job/school/unfamiliar situation? Every time you enter a room, before you utter a word, take its ‘temperature’. Do people seem sad? Relaxed? Nervous? remember that everyone else has been there longer than you. Watch them to gain information. If you don’t know what the situation is, don’t say anything yet, other than ‘Hello’.
- On a first date? I know you want to tell them right away that you make wonderful rabbit ravioli and that you speak ancient Etruscan, but instead you should be listening twice as much as you speak. Otherwise you are robbing yourself of what might be your last chance to gather info Listening has an added bonus: it has a naturally calming effect, so you can dissipate some of that anxiety.
- In a busy meeting, never pass up a good opportunity to keep your mouth shut. You’ll learn so much more from what people are saying to you than the other way around. That way, when you do contribute, you’re bringing a more nuanced and insightful point of view. Extroversion and speaking up for the sake of it isn’t the only way to succeed.
- Read between the lines. People don’t always say what they are thinking and that’s their prerogative. If it makes someone anxious to be blunt, then don’t put them in that position; pay attention to context and to what they are not saying.
- Be nimble, be quick. Gather data quickly, process quickly, adapt quickly. To paraphrase Darwin, survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the strongest. It means survival of the most adaptable.
- If you can’t remember all of that and you’re in a bind, remember this golden rule, courtesy of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus: ‘We are given two ears and one mouth that we may listen twice as much as we speak’.