Thursday, 1 September 2011

Therapy Thursday: The Johari Window

Named after its inventors, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, the Johari Window is an incredibly simple but surprisingly useful tool for gaining a new perspective on your life and relationships. The model represents a person as a four-paned window, as shown in this makeshift diagram:

                                    Known to Self             Not Known to Self
                            .                                  .                                    .
           Known to   .                                   .                                    .
             Others     .                                   .                                    .                 
                            .            OPEN              .             BLIND             .
                            .                                  .                                    .
                            .                                  .                                    .
                            .                                  .                                    .
                            .                                  .                                    .
             Not          .                                  .                                    .
          Known to     .           HIDDEN           .          UNKNOWN         .
           Others       .                                   .                                    .
                            .                                  .                                    .

Each pane or quadrant contains different information about the person, arranged according to whether or not the person him or herself is actually aware of that information, and whether or not other people in his or her life know about it.

Quadrant 1: Open
Information that we know about ourselves and that others also know. The field upon which we interact.

Quadrant 2: Blind
Information that others know about us, but that we do not know about ourselves. Such fragments of missed information are significantly known as “blind spots.”

Quadrant 3: Hidden
Information that we know about ourselves, but that others do not know, perhaps because we are hiding it from them.

Quadrant 4: Unknown
Information about us that is true, but that is unknown to ourselves and to others.

Going Deeper
Although the window panes in the above diagram are of equal size and shape, in real life they obviously occupy different proportions of the window, and change size and shape constantly. Though this model is frequently co-opted by businesses seeking to build more efficient team dynamics, I like to use it with individuals and couples. As an individual, thinking about the model might help you gain a better understanding of how you operate in the world, and what you might need to do to become more fully conscious, authentic and pro-social. As a couple, talking about your respective windows, and how they interact, can help you identify dysfunctional tendencies and work toward more open, harmonious communication.

Open Space
Generally speaking, the larger the Open space, the better. The more open we can be with self and others, the easier it is to speak and live our truth. Living consciously, honestly and mindfully, we're more likely to feel good about ourselves, to follow authentic paths toward self fulfillment, and to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary conflicts. The goal, then, is to make the Open space bigger by annexing territory occupied by the other panes (which obviously become smaller as a result).

Blind Space
By definition, it is really hard for us to see our own blind spots, so the best way to gain ground from the Blind quadrant is by giving others the opportunity and permission to tell us about them. This is not easy, because blind spots are usually weaknesses, so we don't want to see them, and we're likely to get defensive when they're pointed out to us, and shoot the messenger. Yet, if they can do so gently and respectfully, there is hardly a greater gift another person can offer to us than the revelation of one of our blind spots. Information is power. If nobody wants to get too close to me because I have terrible breath, then it does me no good whatsoever if you participate in the big secret (all the while trying hard to stay upwind from me). But if you take a chance and tell me, then – once I get over the shock and the hurt – I can do something about it. I can brush my teeth more, floss, gargle with mouthwash, see a dental hygienist; and then people will be willing to come close to me again. There are many things to say about giving and receiving feedback, but that will have to wait for another day. The main thing is, if you really want feedback, ask, be grateful, try not to get defensive, and don't take one person's opinion too seriously: ask around, see what other people think. As for pointing out other people's blind spots, always ask if they're ready for some feedback first, and be gentle with them.

Hidden Space
Space can be taken from the Hidden quadrant through self-disclosure, revealing parts of ourselves to others. Appropriate disclosure builds trust, friendship and intimacy, inviting others into our world. John Steinbeck wrote, “We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say – and to feel – ‘Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.’” Self-disclosure offers this necessary sense of belonging with other members of the herd. We all seem to need some secrets, but secrecy can be toxic. Many old and dying people still carry ancient secrets like a heavy weight on their souls, filling life with bitterness and death with terror.

Having said that, there are many unspoken social and cultural norms around self-disclosure. For our own protection, such a process also requires caution and good timing. We all need to be careful not to disclose too much, or too soon, or to the wrong person, or information that really is better kept to ourselves. In any new or recovering relationship, it is always best to start with smaller, less important pieces of personal information. The other person will normally offer something back, and on it goes, like a dance, each new shared piece of information leading to greater trust, and an ever-expanding willingness to share our private and vulnerable worlds. Love and friendship thrive on this stuff.

Unknown Space
How do we find out things about ourselves that are Unknown to ourselves and everyone else? To me, this is the most exciting piece. Two main methods spring to mind. First, we must remain open, curious, and brave, always willing to try new things and accept new possibilities. Who knows what we may be capable of, what we might be? Unknown pieces of ourselves might return to the fold if we can but keep the gate open. I might be a great banjo-player, tango-dancer, bucking bronco rider, or chess-master. I won't know until I try. Openness is an attitude we can adopt through conscious practice.

Secondly, much of what is unknown about ourselves represents what Jung called the Shadow: aspects of our psyche that – for one reason or another – we have suppressed, rejected and buried. The Shadow never goes away, it festers underground, and comes back to poison or undermine our lives in numerous ways. What's more, it takes a lot of energy shutting out pieces of ourselves, energy that could be put to better use elsewhere. The goal is not to defeat the Shadow, but to recognize and embrace it. Usually the Shadow is not objectively negative at all, it just looks that way when it's shrouded in darkness. In the light of day it can be neutral or even positive, a part of ourselves that has a valid role to play, that can be put to constructive use. So how do you find the shadow? Looking is a good start. We get clues when we have reactions to other people that are unnecessarily strong. It could be, we're getting triggered by something in their behaviour which reminds us of a part of ourselves that we've buried. If I hate people who are too self-confident and cocky, maybe I have a Shadow who's just like that. Perhaps my parents taught me early on that such qualities are unattractive and unlovable, so to please them I became meek and self-effacing. But that rejected self-confident side of my true personality could serve me very well in certain situations, if I could re-integrate him into my Open space. And, who knows, my friends and family might like this new, more complete me better (or at least accept me as I really am).

I hope all of this is food for thought.

Next week... probably my favourite: the Somatic Experiencing SIBAM model. Hope to see you there.

1 comment:

  1. Of all the different counseling areas you mentioned, the unknown space is what caught my attention the most. One of the best ways to learn about yourself is to put yourself in new situations. Doing things out of the norm is key strategy to learn how you react both under pressure and to new circumstances.