Untangling the Johari Window: Part 1/2

The Johari Window, a graphic model for interpersonal awareness, is a big title for a simple, yet powerful idea.

It was first published by the UCLA Extension Office in the Proceedings of the Western Training Laboratory in Group Development in 1955 (did you miss that edition?). Its creators were psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, Joe and Harry to their family and friends.

Legend has it that weeks after the conference where Luft and Ingham first presented their model, a colleague passed in the hall and remarked how much he had enjoyed their “Joe-Harry Window,” and the name stuck: the Johari Window was born. The model itself is deep, but the name is not. It really is just Joe plus Harry!

What Is the Johari Window?

The Johari Window offers a way for us to think about ourselves and our interactions with other people.

In every encounter, there are things about you that the other person knows, and things they don’t know. Likewise, there are things about you that are obvious to other people, but of which you are unaware. Finally, there are things about us that are unknown to both us and others.

Knowns and unknowns from the perspective of self and others, a two-by-two matrix, results in the four quadrants of the Johari Window, so named because the graphical representation looks like a window with four panes:

  • Quadrant I: The Open Area, or the area of free activity, holds the things about you that are known to both you and the other person.
  • Quadrant II: The Blind Area represents our personal blindspots, things others can see about us that we don’t see.
  • Quadrant III: The Hidden Area contains the things we know about ourselves that we keep hidden from others.
  • Quadrant IV: The Unknown Area includes the behaviors and motivators that are unknown to all, yet which we know are present because they occasionally surface, at which point we realize they were invisibly influencing our behavior all along.

Window Panes that can Grow and Shrink

The Johari Window becomes most powerful when we recognize that the size of each quadrant—each pane of the window—is not fixed. In fact, the relative size of each pane changes all the time.

In a later article, Luft identified ten principles of change that offer deep insights into how the constant movement of what we know and don’t know about ourselves and others affects our lives and relationships.

We will tackle the first five this week. Stay tuned next week for principles 6-10!

Principle #1: A change in any one quadrant will affect all other quadrants.

While perhaps self-evident, this principle is important. Quadrant I gets bigger when we self-disclose or get constructive feedback about a blind spot, making Quadrants III and II smaller, respectively. Quadrant IV gets smaller through self-discovery, and the other quadrants get bigger, depending on where we locate that newly discovered information.

It is worth noting that the visual of the Johari Window necessarily underrepresents the size and influence of Quadrant IV. It is bigger than shown, and unearthing the contents of Quadrant IV is a life’s effort.

Principle #2: It takes energy to hide, deny, or be blind to behavior which is involved in interaction.

Ever experience a game of “project chicken?” This is when everyone on a project team hides the fact that they have no chance of hitting their individual due dates in a desperate hope that one of their teammates will swerve first, confessing that they are behind and thus allowing the rest of the team to avoid disclosing their own delays. It’s exhausting, not to mention terribly unproductive.

Luft is not suggesting that it is appropriate to disclose everything. It most definitely isn’t (TMI, anyone?). He is simply pointing out that keeping a lid on it takes energy.

Principle #3: Threat tends to decrease awareness; mutual trust tends to increase awareness. Forced awareness (exposure) is undesirable and usually ineffective.

The base of the pyramid of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team is lack of trust. When there is no trust, teams hide things and progress is impossible. With trust, the real issues are addressed and teams move forward.

Trust cannot be forced or faked. It is built through many small interactions over time. Forcing people to disclose personal information in contrived team-building exercise is a terrible idea. Doing that to a person with a history of trauma can be downright harmful. And please, no trust falls.

Principle #4: Interpersonal learning means a change has taken place so that Quadrant I is larger and one or more of the other quadrants has grown smaller.

This is how we come to know each other. This is how relationships grow. It is also how conflict arises and relationships end. Interpersonal learning does not mean that what we learn is always positive. Moving the fact that your spouse is terribly unhappy in your relationship out of their hidden Quadrant III is unlikely to make the relationship immediately better, but moving that information into the open Quadrant I might also be the only path to it ever getting better.

Principle #5: Working with others is facilitated by a large enough area of free activity. It means more of the resources and skills in the membership can be applied to the task at hand.

Inevitably, people have ideas, skills, insights, and questions that could contribute to solving problems, but which they keep to themselves because they don’t believe their input is wanted or because they are afraid to speak up. There just isn’t enough trust in the room yet to safely move this information into Quadrant I.

Sometimes this is just because the relationships are new and need time to develop. Other times, the culture won’t allow it. Lack of trust gives rise to fear of conflict, but constructive conflict is essential to real collaboration.


Five down, five to go! Stay tuned for principles 6-10 next week.

Seeing the World Through the Johari Window

Looking through the Johari Window, the work of Retexo, whether it be one-to-one coaching, peer groups, or DiSC Workshops, is all about helping people and groups get things in the right quadrant. We can…

  • Help you and your teams be more open, wasting less energy on hiding, denial, and blindness by increasing the size of Quadrant I
  • Provide a space for safe self-disclosure, revealing and working with the contents of Quadrant II
  • Help clients see what is in their blindspots by exploring Quadrant III, and
  • Create an environment for self-discovery, exploring the uncharted depths of Quadrant IV.

Contact us and let’s get started.

Until next time, Greg

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