Teams cannot function effectively without communication and shared information. When perspectives, abilities, and feelings are in the open, team relationships are dynamic and productive. Individuals can improve their team’s success by actively seeking ways to share information within the group, and by pushing for transparency, candor, and authenticity.
In 1955, American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham laid out a method for individuals to visualize and understand themselves and their relationships with others. The Johari window (a portmanteau of their first names) is a tool for organizing and inventorying personal characteristics from both inside and outside perspectives.
The horizontal axis of the window describes an individual’s knowledge, while the vertical describes the group’s knowledge. Information can be known or unknown along either axis, creating four distinct quadrants:
This first area contains information or descriptions known to both the individual and the group.
In the second quadrant are things known to the group but not to the individual. This ranges from small matters that escape self-recognition to deep issues that are readily apparent to others but the individual is willfully blind to.
The third area is known to the individual but not to the group. It contains secrets and sometimes private information hidden by intentional and unintentional façades.
This fourth and final quadrant comprises information about the individual that is known to neither the individual, nor the group.
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Originally, a Johari window was filled in from a list of 56 adjectives, but it’s use has since been expanded to include habits, skills, and all sorts of facts. Typically to complete a Johari window, an individual will fill in the first and third quadrant, while the group fills in the first and second. Together, the parties can fill in the fourth quadrant with descriptions or questions relevant to the exercise.
Categorizing information is a necessary first step in the Johari method, but what follows is at the heart of the exercise. Teams function most effectively when the information contained in the open quadrant is maximized. This is accomplished by transferring information out of the other three quadrants. This can happen in five ways:
It doesn’t take long to work through a quick Johari window exercise. Even as a basic team building exercise and communication training tool, it can reliably jump-start a conversation. In making your first Johari window, stick to the list of adjectives Luft and Ingham developed in the 50s. These are mostly positive, and form a good starting point for a positive first experience. You can focus on a single individual at a time, or work through the steps for each team member in turn.
|Construct the Window||Draw or project a 2x2 matrix on a surface everyone can see. Label the columns, rows, and each quadrant. Here’s a template to get you started.|
|What’s Known to Self||Look at the list of adjectives, and pick five or six that you think describe you well. Don’t worry about sounding modest, just try to be honest.|
|What’s Known to Others||Repeat this process for the other members of the group, selecting a handful of adjectives you think describe them accurately.|
|Combine Knowledge||For each individual, combine the list of adjectives the group has generated. (You could include hash marks beside repeated words to signal a strong consensus about it.)|
|Fill in the Window Panes||Compare this list with the list the individual generated about themselves.|
|Orientation||Spend a few minutes discussing the adjectives that appear in the open quadrant.|
|Disclosure||Ask an individual to disclose by talking about one of the adjectives they selected for themselves, but the group did not.|
|Feedback||Have the individual select one of the adjectives the group has identified but the individual did not. The group now has the opportunity to give some feedback to the individual about this adjective.|
|Discovery||Elect a few adjectives from the final quadrant. Does this adjective apply to the individual? Why did nobody pick it?|
Remember, a Johari window is a tool for communicating. Communication can only happen on the common ground found in the arena. A Johari window helps a team outline and expand the scope of their communication by understanding what is already common knowledge, and working to bring other important information into the open through discovery, disclosure, and feedback.
While using the original Johari adjectives is a good way to practice your first window, it is just the beginning. Expand the list of descriptors to include negative traits if your team is comfortable with critical feedback and disclosure. When you feel you’re ready for more flexibility, start using the Johari Window to discuss the goals, thoughts, skills, or knowledge of your team. The more you use the method, the better trust and communication you can build in your team.
Johari windows were first devised as a tool to promote communication and strong teamwork. However, they can also be useful in more adversarial situations. In a negotiation for instance, parties may have direct or indirect knowledge of each other’s goals, bottom lines, and BATNAs.
When the parties share this information, the negotiation takes place in the open, based on common knowledge. When information is concealed, both parties work simultaneously to protect their own secrets and uncover their opponents’. These parts of the negotiation are in the shadows, where parties may have guesses but no solid footing.
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In Getting to Yes, the authors, Ury and Fisher, advocate candor in negotiations, in order to foster trust and mutually beneficial outcomes. The expanded opportunities openness provides, they argue, usually outweigh the downsides of handing over information. However, this may not always benefit negotiators, depending on the negotiation style of their opponents.
When faced with an opponent who is more interested in pushing you to a bottom line than in finding common ground, consider playing your cards close to the chest. If such an opponent imagines your best alternative is better than it actually is, you could allow them to continue laboring under this mistake. In such circumstances, a shrewd negotiator might withhold sharing their BATNA, and set a credible bottom line based on the fictitious alternative.
Sharing information can weaken your position, but so can withholding it. Be prepared for your bluff to be called if you mislead your opponent, and remember that unless you share your best alternative, you opposition may simply assume you don’t have one.