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This is part one in the Johari Windows posts. You should start here and then read the follow-up Gazing through my Johari Window for the results of the exercise.

Those of you who took any psychology courses in university probably remember needing to have someone wrench you from the depths of a self-induced  self-diagnosis abyss. I clearly remember paging through my Psych 101 textbook and becoming increasingly anxious with each turned page as I realized that I was suffering from an unbelievable combination of manic depression, multiple personality disorder, ADD, sociopathic tendencies, and a litany of other debilitating disorders. If you were looking for me by the end of the semester, you would have found me curled in the fetal position under my desk, crying and breathing shallowly into a paper bag.

Which brings us to the most important thing I learned in that class: self-diagnosis is useless. There’s a good reason your doctor rolls her eyes when you walk in with a sheaf of ‘medical’ information from the Internets, ranting and raving about how you’ve only got a few minutes to live. It’s the same reason that we all need feedback from our colleagues, clients, and mentors to properly understand our own performance. Marshall Goldsmith, renown executive coach, wrote an excellent book about the value of feedback called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Among many, many other excellent points, Marshall has this to say on the topic of self-diagnosis:

For one thing, I’m a little skeptical of self-diagnosis. Just as people tend to overestimate their strengths, they also tend to overrate their weaknesses. They think they’re really bad at something at which they’re only mediocre or slightly poor — an F when they’re really a C minus. In other words, they see cancer where a professional would see a muscle pull.

The book obviously has a lot to say about feedback, which is where it gets really interesting for us. Section three (How We Can Change for the Better) starts off with a description of Johari Windows:

Psychologists have all sorts of schemata to explain us to ourselves. One of the more interesting ones is a simple four-pane grid known as the Johari Window (named after two real characters, Joe and Harry). It divides our self-awareness into four parts, based on what is known and unknown about us to other people and what is known and unknown about us to ourselves.

Turns out that Johari Windows were created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham back in 1955 to help people better understand their interpersonal communication and relationships (more info). The window is divided into four panes — or rooms — as follows:

Johari Window

Johari Window

The actual exercise is conducted by giving the subject a list of 55 adjectives (e.g.: bold, dependable, ingenious — see the full list) and asking him or her to pick five that describe themselves. Their peers are then given the same list and asked to pick the same number of adjectives to describe the subject. The resulting set of words is then plotted onto the grid, with shared adjectives in Public, asker-only ones in Private, and peer-only ones in Blind Spots.

Blind Spots (the circled pane) is the most interesting one and the premise that Rypple is built on. The people around you — your colleagues and clients, your family and friends — know things about you that you don’t know and those things may be holding you back. Think about how powerful the knowledge in the Blind Spots box really is and about how much more successful it would make you to tap into it (not necessarily in the monetary sense). A small sample of the kinds of things you can learn:

  • From your team: your real value as a team member or leader. The ways you could be a better contributor and your team could be more efficient and productive. The things you already do well and don’t realize make a difference.
  • From your clients: real visibility into the status of your accounts. Honest assessments of your sales staff. Real understanding of competitors and opportunities.
  • From friends, family, coworkers: the annoying habits you have and don’t know about. The ways in which you could be a better friend, spouse, or parent. The strengths you may not know you posses or ways in which you’re hard on yourself when other people aren’t.

Those are just a few examples to give a sense of the possibilities. I’m sure you have no trouble thinking of things you’d like to know!

The Great Rypple Johari Experiment

I was inspired by this new found knowledge and decided to conduct a little experiment. I’ve sent a Rypple to the whole team and asked them to visit the Wikipedia page and choose six adjectives that describe me, and I’m doing the same while I wait for their responses. I’ll plot out what comes back to build my grid and will report back on the results as soon as I have them.

Results are up! Check out the follow-up Gazing through my Johari Window for more Johari goodness.