How Self-Aware are You?
To help my clients develop a greater working knowledge of self-awareness I often use a model called The Johari Window. The model is named after its two inventors, psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram, and conceptualizes self-awareness as four windowpanes, each pane representing a different type of awareness. These are:
- Open. Things I know about myself (or think I know), which I freely share or disclose with others. These aren't just facts, for example my age, where I live or my phone number, but also my interests or how I feel about certain issues.
- Blind. Things others know about me of which I'm not aware. We can also refer to these as blind spots. These range from the trivial - a mark on the back of my jacket which I cannot see but you can - to the significant. I ask and answer all my own questions, causing people to feel disempowered and frustrated. Blind is possibly the most dangerous pane, as we are unaware of the impact we are having on others. This means in a key meeting with my manager I may be having exactly the impact I wanted, or I may be turning him against my plan because of the way I am communicating or behaving; I don't know. To avoid or reduce the size of this pane, it's important to continually ask for and be open to feedback, and monitor the impact we are having on people by "mindreading," a psychological skill we all have and which I say more about later in this chapter. Looking through the "blind" window means that we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and stagnate personally and professionally. A rule of thumb is that if you are often surprised by people's comments about you then you have a fairly large blind spot.
- Hidden. Things I know about myself but keep concealed from others. For example, if I've just met someone, I will likely not confide my most private personal thoughts and aspirations. As I get to know them better, I may eventually choose to share this information. Or maybe I never will. It may be that it never occurs to me that someone else might find this information interesting or relevant. How long we stay behaind the "hidden" pane usually reveals how much or how little we are willing to trust others. We'll examine the issue of trust in chapter 5.
- Unknown. Things neither I nor others know about me. Some information lies in the unconscious, and we become aware of it through dreams of therapy.
When a client is struggling with self-awareness issues I will quickly draw the model on a white board and ask them to tell me how open, hidden, or blind they feel they are. For example, Josh believed that work and his personal life should be kept separate. He was a fairly shy person who didn't enjoy socializing with the team or talking about himself. The problem was that his team had no way to get to know Josh, which made it hard for them to attach to their leader, to trust him, or be able to understand more about his motivations, passion and aspirations. Using the window model, I explained to Josh that he had a very small Open pane, a large Hidden pane, and a fairly large Blind pane, because he didn't understand how his fierce sense of privacy was hurting his relationship with the team. Ultimately, we increased the size of the Open windowpane and reduced the size of the Blind and Hidden quadrants, primarily by getting him comfortable with expressing his beliefs to his team so they could understand him better. Now, it's important to understand that changing this open/hidden/blind dynamic isn't about "opening the kimon" to the point of inappropriate self-disclosure. It's about sharing your life experience so that people understand you better. Some people feel compelled to share everthing about themselves, believing it enables them to connect deeply with others. Sharing at a level out of all proportion to the needs of the relationship can result in inappropriate self-disclosure, what some people jokingly refer to as TMI - Too Much Information. The result is that your need for openness forces other people to keep themselves "hidden" in order to protect themselves.