Nunchi: The Korean Art of Owning The Room

‘Nunchi’ translates to English as ‘eye measure’ and, according to Euny Hong, author of the book, The Power of Nunchi: the Korean Secret to Happiness and Success, it describes ‘the subtle art of gauging other people’s thoughts and feelings in order to build trust, harmony, and connection.’

It’s closely related to concepts like emotional intelligence and situational awareness. However, there are two major differences:

  1. Rather than simply seeking to understand one or two people in a room, nunchi emphasizes understanding the room as a whole and then acting accordingly.
  2. Speed is paramount to nunchi. “If you can figure out what’s going on, but it’s after the fact, that’s not as useful,” says Hong.

Basically, nunchi is the art of speed reading a room in order to understand what others are thinking and feeling to know what actions and words are most appropriate for any given situation.

However, why is this important? Because each room has a volume and mood that are in constant flux. As Hong explains, 

“Koreans talk of a room as having a boonwigi–the room’s atmosphere or wellness level, so to speak. Everyone is a contributing member of this boonwigi just by being there. Act with no nunchi, and you ruin the boonwigi for the whole room. Act with great, or “quick” nunchi, and you can enhance the atmosphere of the room for everyone.”

So, how can you improve your nunchi in order to have greater success in both life and business?

The remainder of this article explores a couple of tips that Hong recommends:

1. Listen Twice as Much as You Speak

People with quick nunchi are adept listeners who practically live by the words of Epictetus: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” 

When you listen long enough, Hong says that most of your questions will be answered without you having to say a word.

2. Read Between the Lines

“In Korea, what is not being said is every bit as important as the words that are spoken, and a person who pays attention merely to the words is getting just half the story,” says Hong.

She also recommends using your five senses — and your gut — to better understand what others are thinking and feeling.