Improving our self-awareness is an ongoing task, but the Johari Window provides a useful tool to begin this journey.
The national poet of Scotland, Robert Burns, captured for posterity the fundamentally tricky business of self-awareness when he wrote:
“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!”
Wise words. It reminds us that, when it comes to self-awareness, knowing ourselves is only half the battle, difficult though even that may be. We also need to take account of the impression we make, and the impact we have, on others.
When we think about it, it’s easy to see why this might be important at work, where our relationships with our colleagues – especially as leaders – can make the difference between positive cultures of performance and wellbeing and workplaces where, by accident, design or a mix of both, we fail to connect, inspire and lead our people to success. Knowing ourselves in the round can be an important starting point on that journey not just to self-awareness, but also to effective and transformational leadership.
Help is at hand. One technique that helps us to gain a better understanding of our relationships with ourselves and others is the Johari Window, developed in 1955 by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, whose names are now forever fused for posterity and in the service of greater self-knowledge.
Their simple tool helps us to explore the known and unknown parts of ourselves, and involves working with friends or colleagues in a spirit of openness and trust. The objective is to construct our own Johari Window, based on an assessment of our own traits, combined with an assessment from others.
Creating our own Johari Window
So, here’s how it works.
We select around 5-10 personality traits from a pre-defined list of adjectives that best reflect how we view ourselves.
We then ask others to pick the traits that they feel define us from the same list.
Future Talent Learning has also developed its own, expanded list of adjectives to give a wider range of options. Provided that we use the same list as the other people we’re inviting to give their views, then either list will work just as well.
These selections are then mapped across four panes (or quadrants) to provide insights into how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us – and any notable differences between the two.
The Open Pane (also known as the Arena) contains the adjectives selected by ourselves and by others. These highlight aspects of ourselves that are known to us and other people. The ideal Johari Window has a large open pane, as it suggests that the way we view ourselves correlates with the way others see us.
The Hidden Pane (aka the Façade) displays the traits chosen by ourselves but not by others. These are the things that we know about ourselves, but are unknown to others; for example, that we put on a front to hide our shyness or perhaps keep our religious beliefs to ourselves. Getting the level of self-disclosure right can be tricky – no-one wants an over-familiar David Brent of The Office-type leader in their midst. But some form of sharing can help to build trust and also models behaviour that will encourage others to be open too.
The Blind Pane (aka Blind Spots) contains adjectives that others have selected to describe us, but we did not choose. These are the characteristics others recognise in us, but we don’t know about ourselves. For example, we may not consider ourselves to be calm or assertive until this is pointed out by colleagues. A large Blind Pane suggests we may be naïve or in denial about some of our characteristics; it may also imply that people around us are not being open about the way they see us. But being receptive to feedback about ourselves from trusted sources can be illuminating and empowering.
The Unknown Pane (aka Unknown) houses traits that neither we, nor others, selected about us. It represents things about us that are unknown to ourselves and others. The open space here creates a reminder for us that our current level of self-awareness can always get deeper and richer. It’s a recognition that we all have sides to us that may well be currently out of view – both to ourselves and to others.
The results will, of course, vary according to how open we’re prepared to be about ourselves and also the people we choose to give their opinions about us. Concerns have been raised about how the model is used in practice. Inevitably, because it invites the sharing of personal information, the process is subject to the same biases and judgements inherent in any form of disclosure or feedback. But provided that we’re aware of these pitfalls, and that it’s used in a spirit of openness and as just one tool in our quest for better self-awareness, then the process can act as a trust-builder with co-workers as well as a means to improve how well we know ourselves.
Disclosure, discovery and feedback
It’s important to see the creation of a Johari Window as a starting point rather than an end in itself. It’s not just a tool to help us take stock; it should also be a call to action. Our aim should be to increase the size of the Open Pane through self-disclosure, shared discovery and feedback. The quadrants will change size over time and, being interdependent, each affects the size of others. For example, telling colleagues about an aspect of our personality we’ve always kept hidden would decrease our Hidden Pane and increase our Open Pane; accepting feedback from our team about micromanagement would reduce our blind spots.
Author Barbara V Evers has developed an interesting use for the Johari Window. She advises authors to use the four panes as a means of plotting character development in their works of fiction. Here, for example, is a Johari Window based on the first book of the Harry Potter series. We can anticipate that, as the story unfolds, the panes will shift and change, both as Harry learns more about himself and as we, the readers, get to know him too.
Thinking about our own character development as a leader is another helpful prism through which we might plot our own self-awareness and development. We might not, Harry Potter style, entirely rid the world of evil, but we can certainly use our improving self-knowledge to become better leaders and contribute to positive workplace cultures.
Enhancing our self-awareness is a never-ending journey, during which we evolve and change, requiring us to keep learning and growing from our insights and experiences. We will never achieve it fully. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, acknowledged this when he said: “The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.” But striving to know more about what lies beneath will stand us in good stead as we develop our leadership practice.
Test your understanding
- Detail the four panes of the Johari Window.
- Explain why increasing the size of our Open Pane might be good for us as leaders.
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