Johari’s Window

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Johari’s Window

Johari’s Window was first published in 1955, and has been found to be a useful tool in various counselling, group work and educational settings ever since.  The somewhat exotic looking name is simply a combination of  the names of the tool’s inventors, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham!   I have adapted the terminology of the tool slightly, so you may find published versions which use different wording.  I have also, as you will see later, added a category.

The tool, as you can see, uses the metaphor of a window, through which we look at ourselves (in one direction) and others (in the other).  It divides knowledge about ourselves and others into four panes.  Panes 1 and 3 represent those aspects of our lives and personalities which are known to ourselves, and may or may not be known to others, while panes 1 and 2 represent those aspects which are known to others, but may not (pane 2 )be obvious too ourselves.  Pane 4 represents the aspects of ourselves which are not obvious to ourselves or others. 

In reality, of course, the divisions are not quite so neat.  What we think are aspects of ourselves in Pane 3, ie hidden from others, may in fact be more obvious than we realise, ie in Pane 1, so the fact that we do not know they are obvious is in Pane 2!   Conversely, we may believe some  aspect of  ourselves is perfectly obvious to others,  (Pane 1) when in fact it is Hidden. 

Furthermore, "others" are not an undifferentiated group of people, but a range of people who interact with our life stories in very different ways, over different periods of time, and at different levels.  They will also vary in their ability to pick up and interpret signals and clues about other people, so what is Hidden about us from one person may be perfectly transparent to another. 

The contents of Pane 4 are also trickier than they may seem!  When we talk about "knowing" something about ourselves, or another person, we often mean what we know with our thoughts (cognitively) - ie what can be put into words.   However, much of our experience of the world, and our understanding of each other, is stored in those parts of the brain which cannot be easily accessed by the verbal brain.  Thus we may "know" through our bodies, our emotions, and our imagination things about ourselves and others that we cannot consciously describe or explain.  Some of this "knowledge" may be relatively insignificant, but when it forms an important part of who we are, it may exert pressure on  other panes.  

For instance, a small child who has been very frightened by an experience at the seaside may have no verbal/cognitive memory of the event , but has retained an emotional memory linking the beach with fear.(pane 4)  As an adult, she may be aware of a deep reluctance to walk on a beach, or even to visit places where this might be expected, but be unable to explain to herself the source of her reluctance.  She may regard her fear as irrational or evidence of weakness, and so develop strategies to hide it from others (pane 3), yet in fact her partner may have sensed that she is always very tense on beach holidays (pane 2).   The only thing that may be obvious to both of them is that they argue a lot on holiday! (pane 1)

The partner may go beyond this, and, in ignorance of what is actually the motivating force,  assume that she does not enjoy being alone with him, or her.  This is the more likely if somewhere within the partner is a fear of being abandoned, or some other form of insecurity about the relationship. 

 Sometimes, then,  what we see when we look in a window is our own reflection looking back at us.  I have, therefore, added a fifth pane to the four of the original model, which is the Assumptions pane- what other people think they know about us, which may or may not be true.  

We necessarily operate for much of the time on the basis of assumptions; life would be unworkable if, for instance, we felt we could not assume that the pilot of our plane had been trained,  or that someone who has tears running down their face is upset about something- although either assumption could prove untrue. 

However, assumptions can de dangerously limiting, especially when they are based on either of two mechanisms:

  1. Sometimes we make assumptions about what is true for others, based on what is true for us, an assumption based on similarity.
  2. At other times, we generalise from one aspect of another person to make stereotypical assumptions about every aspect of them - eg a young person in a "hoodie" is anti-authority, law-breaking and dangerous; an assumption based on difference. 

Assumption-making is such a universal and automatic mechanism that, even when we are alert to the possibility that we are making untrue assumptions about someone else, we may forget that other people may also be making assumptions about us. 

Communication is likely to be most effective when everybody is operating within the "open" pane.  Does this mean that our aim should be to move everything there is to know about us into the open area?    Is it always necessary, indeed, is it always wise, to be an "open book"?  Communication does not operate to one set of rules; the requirements change depending on context.  If I buy a newspaper from a shopkeeper, would either of us need, want, or expect to exchange our innermost fears and hopes?   On the other hand could two people expect to sustain an intimate friendship on the basis of only knowing each other’s newspaper preferences?   The model, therefore, has to be understood as a dynamic one, interacting with its context, -perhaps more like a Hall of Mirrors than a static window!

Angela Shaw 2005