The Johari Window (pronounced Joe Harry) was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 as a tool to help individuals, teams and organizations become more self aware. The idea is that by using the model you would gain a better understanding of yourself, how others saw you and that process could help improve relationships. This model, or tool, works really well in team building and can help reduce the silos that so often keep organizations from growing or succeeding over time. My curiosity is around using it to bridge the gap that often exists between public organizations and their communities.
How does the Johari Window work?
It’s a pretty simple model that uses the metaphor of opening the panes of the window. In the original model participants were provided with a list of 56 adjectives (ex. able, logical, quiet, responsive, etc.) and asked to pick 5 or 6 that that they believed described themselves. Then participants would do the same for each other. These adjectives, or describing words, were then added to each person’s window. This is my Johari Window that I began while teaching a facilitation skills course many years ago. Notice the lack of entries in the Arena (top left) area.
For some context on this, I was teaching a short course and had used the Johari Window to begin a class discussion around feedback and boundaries. It seemed only fair to model what I was teaching so had invited the group to provide me with feedback using this online application. I have also used this in the classroom using a flip chart and post-its, in real time, and without the use of the list of adjectives and have found it works really well – as long as the group is made up of people fairly equal in power. Bias rears its head when the group is mixed and the issues of safety or impression control are at play. In other words, this doesn’t work as well if the “boss” is in the room.
Ask and tell
The power in the model comes from asking others to provide you with information about how they see you and telling others about yourself. Asking and telling is what opens the window. In team building this kind of process can bring people together by fostering understanding. In organizations this can be used to help departments understand what each does – it’s values, priorities and challenges. There is an affinity, I think, between this model and the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. Both offer opportunities to reflect on one’s self and improve relationships with others through mutual understanding.
Does the Johari Window scale?
At the individual level the Johari Window can help people learning more about themselves and how other people see them. In teams and organization it can add clarity and improve team and interdepartmental relationships. But can it be used by an organization to help form better relationships with community stakeholders? What would that look like and how might that work?
What if we asked our community to share what they know or thought about us as an organization? Of course most public and community organizations do that often enough with feedback forms, surveys and the like. I wonder about taking it to the next level by using that information as a basis for deeper learning for both the organization and their community. The more an organization or a community knows about itself, the wiser it becomes.
Ask the right questions
So what are the questions that we can ask community members to get a better idea about what they know about us, that we don’t know? And, how do we compare what the community knows to what we know? How do we open the window? One way might be to send out a survey asking community members to list the words that they would use to describe the organization and to provide an example of why they chose that word. Then send the same question out to the organization members and especially to leadership. The words in common would make up the Open area in the Johari Window. Words from the community not used by the organization would be added to the Blind area and words from the organization not included in the community responses would be the Hidden area.
Wouldn’t that be powerful information for any organization and especially for public organizations like schools, districts, municipalities, even non-profits, that want to genuinely engage their community stakeholders? It could provide the basis for a communication plan that targeted what the community didn’t know about the organization. It could also be used to help make meaningful changes in the organization itself.
How else might we use the Johari Window?
I like tools and models, especially ones that can be adapted to multiple uses. The Johari Window adapts and scales brilliantly so how else might we use this tool? What are your favourite tools or models for learning about your teams, organizations or community?
Adapted from original published as Self-Knowledge and Community Engagement by Jamie Billingham August 18, 2012 on Thoughtstream.ca blog. Also posted to LinkedIn.