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The Johari Window: A Communication Tool to Improve Relationships

Updated on April 29, 2017
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Kim is licensed in mental health and addiction counseling. Her education is in business, counseling, and health administration.

When I share myself with others and am open to feedback from others, I begin to change.
When I share myself with others and am open to feedback from others, I begin to change.

What Is the Johari Window?

The Johari Window is a communication tool developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in the 1950s. They named the tool after themselves (Joe and Harrington), and they used it to demonstrate how open communication can improve relationships.

Open communication involves sharing openly about ourselves and accepting feedback from others. Sharing about ourselves can build trust. Accepting feedback helps us learn about ourselves and can help us overcome personal issues that affect our relationships.

The Johari Window is used in business organizations to build leadership skills and effective teams. It is used in group therapy for substance-use disorders, to improve communication and relationship skills, and can be used by individuals for personal growth and development.

How it Works

You can use the Johari Window to increase self-awareness and self-esteem and to decrease anxiety. You can use it to build trust, improve communication and achieve higher levels of intimacy in relationships. Use it at work to work more effectively and to get along better with co-workers. Once you understand how the Johari Window works, you will see how important it is to share about yourself with others and to listen to others for feedback that will help you grow and get more of what you want.

If you think of a window as representing yourself and divide the window into four panes that represent four parts of yourself; some parts that are visible to you, parts that are visible to others, parts visible to you and others, and parts visible to neither yourself nor others. In the diagram below, the parts that are visible to you are the two top panes. The parts that can be seen by others are the two panes on the left. Each pane in the diagram is labeled to further explain the contents of that pane.

Johari Window

Using the Johari Window as a tool for self-discovery.
Using the Johari Window as a tool for self-discovery.

SECRET

The upper right quadrant is the secret pane. These are things you know about yourself, but aren’t comfortable sharing with others. You may even fear that others will learn about your secrets, and put a great deal of effort into hiding these secrets.

Items in this pane can range from things you prefer not to disclose to a particular person at a particular time, to things you would absolutely under no circumstances share with anyone ever. A problem with substance abuse or an affair that you are hiding from your spouse would be included in the secret pane.

You might not want to share your address on the internet or share about your finances with your children. You might be comfortable sharing about your family of origin with a friend, but not with an acquaintance or co-worker. You might only be comfortable discussing a trauma issue in therapy, or perhaps not even in therapy at this time. Many people keep feelings of rejection, pain, sadness, and fear in the secret pane.

OPEN

The upper left quadrant is the open pane. In it are the things that you share easily with others about yourself. Most people are comfortable sharing their name, age, address and phone number with others and sharing their hobbies, interests, preferences, occupation or vacation plans. The feelings you are comfortable sharing with others would be in this pane. Some people are only comfortable sharing angry and happy feelings with others and may hide more vulnerable feelings in their secret pane.

There are a number of reasons why a person is more comfortable sharing some things than others, or with some people but not others. Some of the reasons are true for nearly everyone, while some reasons might be specific to you based on your current circumstances, past experiences, personal preference, and socialization. For example, it is generally considered inappropriate or ill-mannered to announce bad news when someone else is celebrating an accomplishment. It may be a matter of preference or socialization that inhibits one person from discussing politics, finances or religion, while another may do so passionately whenever possible.

UNKNOWN

The lower right quadrant is the unknown pane; unknown to you or to others. You might have a strong negative or positive reaction to a particular physical attribute of another that you are not aware of having and neither is anyone else. You might easily become skilled at sail boating but you don’t know that about yourself because you have never been boating. Naturally, no one else would know that about you either.

BLIND

The lower left quadrant is the blind pane. These are things others can readily see about you that you are not aware of about yourself. You might use your hands a lot when you speak or say “um” a lot, but are not aware that you do that until someone points it out to you. Your friend might notice that every one you date has a similar trait or feature that you are not aware of.

Sharing Self With Others

In the above diagram, the panes are all roughly the same size. In reality, most people beginning to use the Johari Window have a lot more items in their secret pane than they have in the open pane. They typically have been putting a lot of energy into hiding their secrets, and have a great deal of anxiety related to keeping their secrets hidden. As the person begins sharing about items or events in the secret pane, the items are moved to the open pane; making the open pane larger and the secret pane smaller.

Part of the sharing includes examining the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that contributed to the secrecy. A common example is the belief that a man who shares vulnerable feelings is not a “real man,” leading him to hide his vulnerable feelings related to a loss, use substances to help him hide the feelings, and then hide the substance use. As a result of beginning to share these aspects of himself, his anxiety and shame lessens, and his self esteem improves. His awareness of himself is increased, and he can consequently begin to make better choices for himself. This demonstrates the value of self disclosure or sharing about self to others.

Self Disclosure

OPEN
 
SECRET
loss 
← ← ←
loss
substance 
← ← ←
substance use
"manhood" 
← ← ←
"manhood"
By sharing my secret, it moves from the secret pane to the open pane. The secret pane becomes smaller, and the open pane grows larger. Anxiety decreases and self esteem increases.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

The other aspect of the Johari Window is being able to use feedback from others to solve problems, improve effectiveness, resolve personal issues, or have more effective relationships. If I believe I am in a relationship that is mutually satisfying but I am not listening to my partner’s complaints or my partner is not expressing legitimate complaints, I might find myself surprised when divorce papers are served. Had I listened to feedback, I might have adjusted some behaviors in order to preserve the relationship. If there are problems in the department I manage, and I choose to ignore consistent complaints from employees that I repeatedly ignore their suggestions, I will not be able to make some changes that will help the department reach its goals.

Receiving feedback involves being able to look at parts of myself that are hidden from me in the blind pane, my blind spots, when others point these out to me. When I am receptive to feedback, items move from the blind pane to the open pane, making the blind pane smaller and the open pane larger. In addition to being receptive to feedback, I can actively seek feedback from others in the form of questions about how they see me.

Using Feedback

OPEN 
As a result, I am now aware that I am at times overly critical of others. Now that I am aware, I can examine the consequences of this behavior and make a decision about whether or not to change this behavior. 
I learn from feedback that others see me as overly critical
BLIND
By listening to feedback from others, I am able to recognize a negative behavior and consider changing it. The item moves from the blind to the open pane. If I get upset or isolate from feedback it remains in the blind pane and hinders my growth.

Defensiveness, Isolation and Safety

If I isolate myself from others or am overly defensive, I am blocking access to feedback and hindering my own growth. A person may isolate because they are overly sensitive to criticism, have trouble coping with criticism, have been traumatized by criticism, or because they are ashamed, embarrassed, depressed or in pain. When a person is defensive, he or she typically, but not always, has a strong negative reaction to feedback. The feedback is perceived as painful or threatening. Or, more likely, receiving the feedback would result in a change that would be difficult or undesirable. For example, if I listen to your feedback that my alcohol use is a problem, I may need to consider changing my drinking behavior; a change that would be undesirable or even threatening.

Be mindful that others may not value giving feedback as an important relationship behavior or skill. They may have beliefs about being “nice” that prevent them from being honest in a relationship. They may be fearful of an angry or violent response, fearful of strong emotions, or fearful of losing the relationship. They may prefer to avoid conflict. These same fears might hinder you from providing feedback to others as well.

If physical, psychological or verbal abuse has been a problem in the current or past relationships, individual or relationship counseling is indicated. Personal safety is of utmost importance. The purpose of the Johari Window is to promote personal and psychological growth. These cannot occur in the absence of physical and psychological safety. A person who has been emotionally abused may experience healthy feedback as abusive, or may not recognize when the “feedback” is really more abuse.

A Spiritual Component

To add a spiritual component to the Johari Window, it can be helpful to use the book God I Have Issues as a guide to contemplative prayer about problematic themes or feelings that have been identified in working on the Johari Window.

If struggling with an addiction, it can be helpful to consider how this physical affliction can be a spiritual blessing. If afraid to deal with an issue, fear can be located in the table of contents or index. I can read the entry on that emotion, related scriptures, prayer pointers, and the section called, “words to take with me.”

The take-home message of the book is that a loving God wants to be with us in our feelings and emotional life. The book is a guide that can be used to help you express and work through difficult feelings in a constructive way.

© 2010 Kim Harris

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      Laurie S 6 weeks ago

      I love, love, love Johari Window work! It's amazing to see what groups learn from the full experience of answering the questionnaire and measuring it out on their window and then share about what they've learned about themselves! It's an awesome tool for working with group!!!

      Thank you for your post!

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      Kim Harris 5 years ago

      Thanks Sensei Martin. There was a lot of "explaining" involved in this hub. I'm glad it comes across clearly. It's interesting how you can take concepts for granted until you try to explain the ideas to someone else. I really do appreciate your taking the time to read and comment, Sensei Martin:)

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      Sensei Martin 5 years ago from Queensland, Australia

      Hi Kim, I came across the Johari Window a few years back but had forgotten about it, it's a great system and i think you've explained it really well. Even the name Johari is appealing - kinda strong and mystical :)

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      Kim Harris 5 years ago

      thanks joymolly:)

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      joymolly 5 years ago

      Easy to understand ThankYou

    • kimh039 profile image
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      Kim Harris 6 years ago

      Hi crazybeanrider! The Johari Window can be a great tool for getting to know yourself better - and for stimulating interesting discussions at times. I hope you find it useful, and appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. Thanks.

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 6 years ago from Washington MI

      Something to think about. Great writing. The hunb definitely gave me many things to think about.

    • kimh039 profile image
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      Kim Harris 6 years ago

      Thanks so much for your support Sun-Girl:)

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      Sun-Girl 6 years ago from Nigeria

      Great hub which is well shared.

    • kimh039 profile image
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      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      Say that 1x fast. Thanks Micky Dee. I thought I already responded to your comment. Is it possible my reply got deleted when I did some editing? Anyway! Yes it did take some work - especially the tables. Appreciate your taking the time to check it out.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Yo Kim!!! "a room with a skewed view for a shrewd screwed few"- beautiful! This is great work. It took some time to put this together. Thank you!

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      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      a room with a skewed view for a shrewd screwed few. ty mfb iii.

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      MFB III 7 years ago from United States

      Not an index of great self help ideas but a Win-dex guaranteed to clean up a lot of your skewed views...loved it~~~MFB III

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      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      No. Please. Go on and on and on and on and on, Tony. Again, as with aficionado above, I am amazed at the responses to Johari Window, and the different ways people have been exposed to it. Thanks for checking in Tony; appreciate it.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Kim this is awesome. I first encountered the Johari Window in about 1974 on a management course and my first reaction was exactly as you stated in your intro - it conjured up for me "images of meditation, gurus, mystics, and eastern religion." And then I found out the rather more mundane truth! But it is such a powerful model that I have used it in my practice as a facilitator ever since. It works so well in conflict resolution, in negotiation and in learning, in team building, it is a great tool. I also find it works well with other models like Situational Leadership, the Tuchman model of group development and with TA. I find that using all these models really helps participants understand themselves and the situation so much better.

      Thanks for sharing and sorry to go on a bit about this but it has been my passion for many years!

      Love and peace

      Tony

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      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      Aficionado, that's such a cool story! Thanks for sharing it. I'm trying to imagine what it was like for you when you saw the title, and started remembering using it in your family....and have tried to describe it to people over the years....the johari what?! Thanks for commenting on the way I described it too, cause at times I got lost in details and wondered if anyone could understand what I was saying! I also had trouble publishing my own tables and had to re-do them using the formatted tables. This one was a challenge, and your comment makes it all worthwhile!

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      Aficionada 7 years ago from Indiana, USA

      I am so glad you wrote this! We used to talk about the Johari Window in my family, many years ago when I was growing up. I think maybe my father's workplace had utilized it for improving group interactions or something of that nature. At any rate, it has always fascinated me, and I am so glad to see the way it has been improved by tweaking. You have done a terrific job of describing and explaining it.

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      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      It's more a technique than a type aimed at cognitive restructuring - used a lot in addiction treatment. In fact, I was thinking I should have published it under addictions. It fits under emotions too though. Thanks for the "feedback" valerie. Your comments mean a lot to me.

    • valeriebelew profile image

      valeriebelew 7 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      Kimh, very good writing. I enjoyed the information, and this is a therapy type of which I was not aware. I always take away something new when I read your hubs. Excellent hub. (: v

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      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      Thank you! I'm glad you stopped by msorensson.

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      msorensson 7 years ago

      Wow, awesome hub, Kim. Thank you for sharing!!

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      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      You are oozing gratitude vern! How great is that?! Thanks so much for taking time out of cleaning your windows, to post a comment on mine! I too have some window cleaning to do. I wonder if Windex will work.

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      Vernon Bradley 7 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Thought provoking, challenging. It is easy for me to say, Ah, I do Joe and Harry every day, but I know as true as it might be, it is not true!! I will go back and reread and clean up my window! Thank you for the information and thank you for putting it here so simply and clearly and thank you for adding another piece to my return trip to whence I came!!

      Vern