The Korean concept of ‘nunchi’ lets you read any room effortlessly—here’s how to develop it


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Photo: Getty Images/Tom Werner

Have you ever met someone with so much charisma and charm that they instantly change the energy of every room they enter? If you have, you know what it’s like to be in the vicinity of someone with “nunchi”: the Korean word to describe the ability to effortlessly tune into people’s thoughts and feelings.

Euny Hong, the author of The Power of Nunchi, published earlier this month, says that unlike emotional intelligence, or EQ, (which primarily revolves around tapping into other people’s feelings), those with nunchi can take the temperature of an entire room and adapt their actions from there. “The people who do focus on the room are actors, directors, poker players, and other people who know that you can’t just focus on one person because it’s not really going to help you,” she tells Well+Good.

“The people who do focus on the room are actors, directors, poker players, and other people who know that you can’t just focus on one person because it’s not really going to help you.”

In addition, nunchi involves being quick on your feet as you move from location to location. That’s why, according to Hong, someone can’t have “good” nunchi in Korea, but they can have “quick” nunchi. “If you can figure out what’s going on, but it’s after the fact, that’s not as useful,” says Hong. A true master of nunchi can adapt to social situations on the fly to the benefit of those around them.

If you don’t have stores of nunchi at your beck and call, Hong says you can develop the power using four strategies. Having quick nunchi is an ongoing process, but here are four ways to get you started.

How to develop quick nunchi

1. seek out a nunchi guide

Remember the aforementioned person in your life who knows just how to finesse a room? Well, Hong says that making them your unofficial guide will help you learn their bag of tricks. “Most people have a mentor who always seems to know what’s going on with you. In some invisible way, they always seem to be the perfect guests because they’re paying attention to what you want and what you don’t have,” says Hong.

2. Listen twice as much as you speak

Those with quick nunchi are adept listeners who hear other people instead of just themselves. Hong says they 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 lend others your ear, you’ll be able to communicate with them using skill and empathy.

3. Take etiquette seriously

“Study a book on manners in any culture or country, and you will learn that there’s something in common: to make people feel comfortable,” says Hong. Yes, this sounds stuffy and restrictive, but the author says that they also establish a sense of comfort for guests. So if you’re having someone over, make sure you put those knives on the outside of the forks.

4. Don’t expect people to use their words

“Use your words” is a phrase that children hear a lot, but Hong says that no one (including you) should feel required to be vocal. Instead, it’s our job as empathetic human beings to use a person’s full presence and what’s happening around them to clue us in on how to best practice nunchi. “It’s your job to read between the lines,” says Hong. “A lot of fights, especially between couples, happen cyclically on the same topic over and over because one or both parties refuse to look beyond the words.”

Here’s why empathy should be a crucial part of your self-care toolbox. Plus, how to snap out of a bad mood.

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