Nunchi – The Art of Analyzing and Responding in Social Situations

Posted in Uncategorized by aintnothingright on March 21, 2013

As interpersonal relationships are fundamental to our lives, we examine our relationship dynamics by the day, minute and second, each from our own very personal and thus very specific perspective.  It is because of this highly personal perspective that their lies little use – so it seems – in analyzing specific personal social dynamics from a more withdrawn perspective, or from a scientific view.  Any theory on specific interpersonal situations would largely only be relevant to the individual who created it due to the sheer number of variables involved: who is talking, who are you talking to, how you are feeling, how they are feeling, and innumerable other contextual characteristics of the situation.   Certainly, a trend involving “the art of picking up” literature has permeated into the social consciousness recently, but these books mainly rely on achieving singular goals in specific situations and doubtless simply view individuals as reactionary, instinctual animals.

A method more useful than applying theories on social dynamics to specific social situations is  to provide individuals with tools to carefully evaluate and understand the social situation and the person that you are talking to, and resulting from this understanding, respond, act or behave appropriately.  Although the Korean art of Nunchi doesn’t exactly fit this category – it involves the ability to tactfully express oneself on account of sensitive Korean high context culture (a very interesting topic, which I plan on addressing in another blog) – but it is a term that is fairly suitable to my prior definition as it embodies adjusting your communicative techniques based upon characteristics of the individual (or individuals) you are communicating with.

Now, Nunchi may seem like a basic technique that all mentally stable individuals are innately aware of; however, responding well and appropriately and more so, consistently well and appropriately to people you are communicating with are issues which few individuals concern themselves with, let alone recognize.  Think about people you know, and think about yourself.   Do you ever notice people getting bored or looking away when that one person you all know begins to talk because they consistently talk about inanities?  Do you ever notice how some individuals don’t realize that certain sensitive topics are uninteresting or even offensive to certain groups of people? Or perhaps you notice that often people never mean quite what they say, and then react poorly when you react to what they say, but not what they mean? We all come across this in one way or another.  In fact having a lack of Nunchi or an offbeat Nunchi can result in humour, see any version of the television show The Office, or any of a plethora of comedians whose off kilter responses run against the grain of social norms.

Pregnant pauses, trailing off, embarrassment, disappointment and general uncomfortable-ness; these are all symptomatic of a lack of Nunchi on one, both or several parties in a social situation.  Certainly this increases in relative to the degree of interpersonal distance one is from other parties, but those better trained in Nunchi can compensate for this.

You might say, “well, your version of Nunchi sounds like just empathy”.  Certainly, empathy is an important segment of Nunchi, or can be at least but it differs in several ways:

First, empathy is the understating and often, the desire, to help, whereas Nunchi  involves appropriately responding, which may or may not involve helping.

Secondly, and related to the first, Nunchi involves a response, whereas empathy is far more focused on sharing an emotional relationship than responding to an emotional state.

Thirdly, Nunchi involves much more than emotions, such as the status of the other person, their intellectual capability, or their interests.

The literal translation of Nunchi would be “eye-measure”.  It is interesting that it is named this, as something so subtle as the flicker of eyes or the direction one looks can reveal a plethora of information about an individuals mood, reactions and mental state.    These subtle indicators are usually seen but whether it is noticed, or further, cared about, is another matter entirely.

Nunchi, I strongly believe is certainly something society is lacking, so, I’d like to set you up with a task.  A simple one, and it will be kind of fun.  The next time you talk to someone you know quite well, say something you know that would make them uncomfortable, embarrassed or offended, or go on about nothing but inane tangents, but do not be outrageous about it.  If you are outrageous about it, they will feel you are joking or teasing them, so be very careful about it, and try to think of how to do it beforehand.  Since you know them well, you should know how to cross this line delicately.   Once you have gone about doing it, watch them, their hands, their eyes, the intonation and urgency in their voice, or in the tenseness in the air resulting from the lack of any response on their part.  Quite simply, observe their non-verbal communication – their “paralanguage”.  Directors and actors (good ones) are keen observers of paralanguage and employ it carefully and judicially.

Of course, this is only the first step.  The next step, just as fundamental as the previous one, involves responding based on your observations.  As stated,  how to do this is very difficult to explain to someone given the innumerable variables involved.  So, I won’t try, but hopefully I’ve provided you with a push to think about using techniques to analyze and respond appropriately to others.


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