Kirjoittanut: Saana Keränen - tiimistä FLIP Solutions.
In life and in business we often find ourselves in situations where it isn’t enough to just hear what people are saying, but we need to be able to read them otherwise too. Especially in a work environment, it’s important to be able to read the room you are in. Anyone would know not to walk into a room and start making jokes when the team is just seriously discussing firing someone, but many of these situations are much more subtle. There are of course big cultural differences too when it comes to the way one is supposed to act in different situations. Finnish people for example might not be as sensitive to getting offended by a joke at the wrong time. But when working in a multicultural environment it is crucial to understand these differences. Humour and sarcasm especially do not often translate well and even a harmless joke or comment can create real tension.
This topic is something that I have thought about a lot since starting to work in an international team. That’s why I picked up the book “Nunchi” by Euny Hong. Nunchi is a Korean term that literally translates to “eye-measure.” The author describes it as a Korean superpower. It’s the art of understanding other people’s thoughts and emotions instantly which will help you to succeed in relationships in all areas of life. Koreans don’t talk about “good nunchi” but rather “fast nunchi”. Someone with fast nunchi is able to constantly reevaluate their assumptions whether that’s based on a new word, gesture or expression. The main point is to always be present and alert. (Hong, 2019)
Nunchi at work:
An extreme example of someone with bad nunchi would be Michel Scott, a fictional character played by Steve Carell in the US version of The Office. Michael thinks he is charming and liked by everyone, completely unaware of how uncomfortable his weird and inappropriate jokes make people around him. The character in the show is definitely taken to an extreme, but I would think we have all met the realistic version of him at some point in our lives. Someone who just does not seem to get where the line is for inappropriate jokes or snarky comments. This doesn’t mean that a person like this is ill-willed and morally nunchi is actually neutral. Someone who really is an unpleasant person can still have quick nunchi or wise versa the sweetest person can have bad nunchi. (Hong, 2019)
While reading this book I found myself often thinking that “I don’t know if that’s really true” or “is this really all that important”. But each time I had to remind myself that the Finnish culture really is quite different to many. Finnish people are fairly straight forward and especially when working with young people, we don’t care all that much about status. Of course, as a Finnish person, this laid back attitude is something I enjoy, but it can be a detriment if you suddenly move to work in an international group or in another country. In order to succeed in many cultures, you have to be aware of the status of everyone around you and act in a professional and pleasant way especially to anyone in a higher position than you. We have had many conversations about this in Flip and particularly Finnish sarcasm is something that just does not translate well and causes awkward miss understandings.
I would consider myself someone with a fairly quick nunchi, but I do have to remind myself that it’s common for people to see themselves as better than average in a lot of things. At the end of her book, Hong writes about ways you can work on your nunchi. The first and most simple one is listening and observing. When you speak less and focus on what others are saying, with their words and body language, you can quickly learn about small things that might make others happy or uncomfortable. The tricky thing about nunchi is also that no matter how quick you are with it just one bad day or small outburst can set back a relationship, professional or personal. This area is one that I would really want to become better at, how to fix those little setbacks. Learning nunchi is a lifelong journey and in every new environment, you have to be able to adapt and learn new social rules. This is one of the reasons I enjoy working in our multicultural team so much, it’s the perfect change to learn about others cultures, while still really being safely surrounded by your own.
Written by Saana Keränen