How the Korean Concept of 'Nunchi' Can Help You Listen to Your Needs
October 24, 2018
It’s easy to notice when you’re talking to someone who’s an amazing listener.
They somehow seem to really get what you’re saying and how you’re feeling. “That’s exactly right!” you say in the middle of a coffee shop after they’ve untangled some complicated problem you’ve been mulling over all week.
This a-plus conversation partner might not know it, but they’re mastering the Korean concept of nunchi. Roughly translated, it’s the act of being able to pick up on someone else’s emotions and respond in the best way possible. It’s like hyper-sensitive emotional intelligence.
But finding one of these gems of a conversation partner? It’s not always easy—and they’re not always available at the drop of a “Can you talk now?” text.
The good news: You can take the concept of nunchi and apply it to yourself, thanks to active listening.
Active listening is all about understanding and fully listening to a conversation partner. You absorb what someone’s saying, and you engage in the convo without expectation or judgment—and with lots of self-compassion.
And when you active listen to yourself? It’s magic. It helps us not just talk to ourselves like a friend, but listen to ourselves like a friend, too.
Even though we are always in certain moods, it can be difficult to feel and understand them when we’re in the midst of it. Active listening forces us to take a third party view and see the big picture of how our feelings and actions might connect.
For example: Maybe you were irritated by a slow walker zig-zagging in front of you this morning. But if you stopped to listen to yourself, you’d probably realize it’s less about the person—who isn’t actually trying to ruin your life—and more about the meager five hours of sleep last night that’s got you feeling cranky.
Setting regular check-ins with your mood monsters can be a helpful and somewhat healing process.
Not sure where to start? Here are questions to help you better understand how you’re feeling, what you need, and what you’re thinking:
What emotion am I feeling right now?
It sounds super basic, but how often do you actually ask yourself this question? Research shows that naming our feelings—a tactic called labeling—can help us reduce the power of intense emotions, like anger and sadness.
Alright, I’m going to give it a try on myself. What emotion am I feeling? Ding ding ding, here’s my answer:
“I’m feeling agitated, because there are so many things to do and I don’t know how I will get them all done.”
Now if I put on my active listening cap and respond as though I’m a really awesome listener taking in my problems, I could respond with something like: “It sounds like you’re feeling agitated because you have a lot on your plate right now.”
“It sounds like” is key here—it’s a part of active listening called “restating,” and it’ll challenge you to pinpoint how you’re feeling and also see it from a new perspective.
What do I need right now?
The crucial word here is need. There are so many things you might want—to be honest, I could use a nap and a Twix right now—but reframing this idea about what you need can be another form of self-care.
Ask yourself "What do I need right now?," and really consider the possibilities.
Maybe you need an extra $100 this week.
Maybe you need to finish a task that’s annoying you.
Maybe you need a hug.
Narrowing down the big wild whirlpool of your brain into one or two things that you truly need can help you take the next steps towards getting them.
What do you think would happen if I…?
We so often get stuck in the same trains of thought. They keep chugging as we go through the motions. But a main part of active listening is drawing deeper emotion and information out of the other person—and, in this case, yourself. So strap on your Future Goggles and consider: “What do you think would happen if I…?”
You can fill in the blank with whatever possibilities you want. What would happen if you didn’t hit that deadline? Or if you did? What would happen if you went to that party? What would happen if you took 15 minutes to sit on your floor and meditate, even though you can’t possibly spare the time?
You might be surprised by what you learn. That’s the magic. Listen to yourself, and you might find a new you talking back.
Read next: How to Actually Treat Yourself Like a Friend
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