These two guys named Joe and Harry came up with a brilliant tool that explains how our interactions with the people in our lives expands our understanding of ourselves and those around us. These two modest gentlemen decided to call this tool, the Johari Window, a combination of their names. I was disappointed to find out that the origin of the name was so simple. When I first heard of this concept, it blew my mind. Surely it had to be some East Asian enlightenment philosophy. But no, this is not the case. If you happen to already know about the Johari Window, you probably learned it at some team building activity at work. Maybe the work seminar even bored you, and you just wanted to get back to work instead of sitting through this lame coworker bonding exercise. Honestly, if you YouTube Johari window, the videos aren’t that engaging. I however did not learn the concept from some boring training video. My HR director sister told me about the concept. She described it as:
“The you” only you know, “the you” only others know, “the you” that everyone knows, and “the you” nobody knows.
Eureka! This is the concept I’ve been looking for to help me understand my people. I love this concept so much, that it hangs in my cube at work right under my “Don’t Forget to be Awesome” poster, two things that are important for me to frequently remember. It really has brought consciousness to my interactions with people. I am going to do my best to explain why I love this communication tool, and how I apply the philosophy to my life. So what is this tool anyway? A simple matrix as shown below. Yes, a picture is worth 1,000 words, but I’m going to go ahead and use 1,000 words (or more?) to explain a picture. Let me try and quickly explain what the Johari Window is, and then I’m going to make it more interesting with some specific examples in my life.
The Johari Window is a simple matrix where you put yourself on top, and other people go along the side. Then we split it again, into the known and unknown which makes four areas that describe our interpersonal relationships. “The you everyone knows” is your “Open Area”. This first quadrant is the surface, the exposed, and as the name implies, this is everything that you are open about. “The you only others know” is your “Blind Spot”. This second quadrant is stuff that people know about you, but you don’t know about yourself…eek! “The you only you know” is your “Hidden Area”. This third quadrant the stuff you keep to yourself, your secrets. “The you nobody knows” is your “Unknown Area”. The fourth quadrant starts to get a little meta, and its the part I have a harder time wrapping my head around.
The window itself can be a specific relationship with another person, or can generally applied to a group of people. Really all interactions of our society, but my mind might explode if I try to process that one too hard. The quadrants are not fixed, rather they move with the more we discover. Ultimately we want to increase the open area as to expand ourselves and strengthen relationships. The more we share with others, the more they learn about us. Additionally, others people know things that you might not realize about yourself. As we grow, we start to know more about ourselves through these interactions with others. Having an open communication creates trusts and expands our own knowledge. In the words of Matthew Kelly:
The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.
We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves.
Now that I’ve wasted your time with something that is much better explained in the picture above, let’s make the subject interesting by gossiping about some specific examples of these quadrants in my own life.
In theory, I should start with the open area that everyone knows. But I’m going to start with the hidden arena since its my comfort zone. The part of myself that only I know. I tend to keep guarded, especially around strangers. I don’t want people to find out my darkest secrets…not that my secrets are particularly dark, but everyone has those pesky skeletons in the closet. I’m afraid if I open myself up, I will be vulnerable. By not sharing myself, I keep my blind spot small. However, at the risk of not being open and connecting on a deeper level with others. I also jeopardize my own growth by not allowing others to help me discover things I don’t know about myself. However, the older I get, the deeper my connections become with others, and the more I discover about myself. Which brings me to the open quadrant.
It is unlikely that the people I am closest with would describe me as a shy introvert. When I share my hidden side, I open up to others. Likewise, others tell me things about myself that is hard for me to recognize. I’ve always seen myself as a wallflower, an outsider looking in, a person with little impact and forgettable. One day my friend said to me, “you aren’t as much as a wallflower as you think.” It honestly shattered my known reality. That simple statement helped me see a different side of myself. Wait, what? People do see me, they find me interesting, I am memorable. This opened me up to a part of my personality that I suppressed. I realized I also have an impact on others, and can help others develop into better versions of themselves. When I share my perspective and am open about my opinions others more freely open their hidden sides to me as well. More becomes known, and the unknown quadrant shrinks. We grow the most through honest communications among all the relationships in our lives.
Oh, no! The scary blind spot. What do others know about me that I don’t? This quadrant terrifies me at times. While also being the part of me which I am most curious. You know that weird feeling when someone says to you, “oh, I was talking about you the other day.” Who me? People don’t talk about me. Oh shit, what did they say? What are people’s impressions of me? Is my view and understanding in line with how other people see me? More often than not, when people expose my blind spots to me, it is often for the better. Most the people around me bring me up in life. They tell me I’m cool, I’m smart, I’m creative. Really? At times I even feel like I’m faking it, people tell me these things, and I let them believe it, I don’t correct them. After all, perception is reality. As my relationships develop, I start to understand these things that are apparent to others, and unknown to me. Thus growing my open quadrant, and mitigating the blind spots in my life. Popping my biased bubble and gaining a knowledge of my greater impact. My true colors shining through.
Now into the unknown. This is the part that a workplace seminar on the Johari Window would likely gloss past. The unknown quadrant blows my mind the most. I try to wrap my head around it, trying to get to know the unknown. It becomes very meta. If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound. How do I get to know the unknown? Continual growth within and without. Digging deeper through self discovery. I also view this quadrant as the scale of the window, ever growing. Say I have a friend, and we are open about everything. I tell all my hidden secrets, in turn she shares everything about herself, and we bring each other back to reality by exposing each other blinds spots. Pointing out the obvious that we rather ignore or overlook. So now the open quadrant is huge, right? Or is it? How much more is unknown? How much more can be discovered? We can never know all that is unknown, but the journey into the unknown helps us develop. We may learn something new that we want to keep hidden. We may find something new that we have to tell someone else right away. Others may see a side of us that they hadn’t before. Our personal growth is boundless, there is always more to learn about yourself and the people in your life.