When you step on an escalator, do you stand to one side to let others pass? When someone in the room says it’s hot, do you open a window? If you ask someone on a date and they stare at you blankly, do you withdraw the invitation?

If you don’t do any of these things, some unfortunate news: you cannot “read the air”.

Knowing the unspoken rules governing social life requires comprehensive understanding of your environment, whatever the setting. It’s a skill that’s valuable anywhere in the world – but in Japan, where communication tends to be indirect, it is elevated to another level. Reading the air – kuuki o yomu in Japanese – is a constant exercise, and misreading the air can blow business deals or ruin relationships.

In Japan, for example, if you’re the person speaking loudly in an otherwise silent train car or talking to a client who has long since lost interest, you risk being labeled KY – a pejorative Japanese slang term that stands for “kuuki ga yomenai”, or “unable to read the air”.

“Every group has a few people who are labeled as KY,” says Shinobu Kitayama, editor for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and professor at the University of Michigan in the US. “Often times, you’ll be kicked out from important discussions in many organisations. And sometimes, that can be part of the reason for school bullying. If you find [reading the air] stressful, that’s a problem.”

Read the full article at BBC.com