Taking Whole: Building Authenticity With the Johari Window

Good leaders are often recognized for their qualities of genuineness and authenticity.

Authenticity is the quality of being real or true. The public perception of an authentic person is the same or very close to the “real” person – who they are in private or with those close to them. In the language of our Worldview Intelligence work we call this “taking whole“.

People who are authentic are comfortable with who they are, what they discover about themselves, their worldview and what shaped it, and they have a willingness to continually grow who they are. They know a lot about themselves and they are comfortable expressing who they are to others. They are also able to embody chaordic leadership or chaordic confidence which is growing increasingly important in today’s complex times and when we seek engagement of multiple voices to address the questions and issues at hand.

The Johari Window is a framework that allows us to practice better understanding of self and thus provides a means for any individual to evolve their own authenticity. The Johari Window was developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham and was first used in 1955. It is as effective today in developing a broader self understanding as it was then.

The dimensions of the Johari Window are representative of an individual’s whole personality or psyche. The dimensions are: what I know and what I don’t know, what others know and don’t know. They are illustrated in the following matrix:

johari window

What is known to us that we show other people is Open. These are aspects of ourselves that we are consciously aware of and willing to freely share with others, thus these aspects are also known to others.

The second aspect is what we know about ourselves that we keep Hidden from other people. There will probably always be things we do not disclose to other people. Disclosure in and of itself is not the issue. The question is why are you not disclosing and how much energy is contained in keeping these things hidden from other people?

It is impossible to be truly authentic if we fear other people knowing certain things about ourselves. We have all made decisions, choices or taken action in our lives that we regretted, are embarrassed about or just wish we hadn’t done. It is part of human nature, part of the growth process. Sometimes we don’t want other people to know because we are afraid they will think less of us – possibly because we think less of ourselves. It could be because we have identified ourselves with what we perceive to be a failure instead of recognizing that failure is an action from which we can receive feedback, as discussed in The Wisdom of Failure article.

Sometimes we keep things hidden because we feel like an imposter, or maybe we feel shame about something we did or something that happened to us. Other people tell us what a great job we are doing and yet we feel like we do not deserver the praise or accolades. We keep our fears and uncertainties to ourselves.

When we keep things hidden because of our fears, this takes energy. As long as it takes energy, it detracts from our ability to be truly authentic. If we don’t disclose things about ourselves, simply because they don’t seem relevant anymore, then this doesn’t have the same quality as those things we are afraid to disclose. It does not consume the same energy. In the right circumstances or for the right reasons, we may disclose these things about ourselves and feel perfectly comfortable doing so.

It is not whether things are hidden or not that is problematic, it is the amount of energy they consume in staying hidden and whether fear of disclosure is the motivator for keeping them hidden. Once I began to learn the story of my birth mother, after finding out later in life that I had been adopted, I understood fear was a big motivator in her life.  She was afraid of being found out so she kept many of her stories hidden, not to see the light of day until after she died. She did not disclose her past, that she was married or that she had children and she lived every day in a new constructed life in fear of being found out. So much so, she never told her own adopted daughter when her birthday was.  “Fear and worry are the interest paid on trouble that never comes. They shut the door on what more is possible – love, forgiveness, ease and the rewriting of stories of our lives that could instead be lived with grace and empowerment.” – Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, p 208

A third aspect is Blind. This is what we don’t see or know about ourselves, but others see. This includes what we imagine to be true of ourselves that others don’t see. For instance, we may imagine ourselves to be a great leader, but if you ask people around us, they may not see evidence of this.

The blind category may include things we genuinely don’t see about ourselves and there may be things we are somewhat aware of but don’t acknowledge or don’t want to see. Just before my first divorce, I was going through a very difficult time in my life and was very unhappy. I covered it up by being very busy. I didn’t know how unhappy I was, I was afraid to see it. Some of the people around me were aware of it, however they were unable to broach it with me because I was not ready to hear it. Later, when I was ready, I was shocked to hear how many people could see so clearly what I could not or would not see for myself.

Asking others for feedback is a sure way to shrink our blind aspect. We can do this informally by asking friends, family members or work colleagues we trust. We can do it formally in our work or learning environments through the use of feedback mechanisms like 360s.

The final aspect is Unknown. This is what we don’t know about ourselves and what others also don’t know about us. Because it is unknown, it is impossible to know exactly how big it is but we do tend to shrink it over time, especially if we are consciously on the path of growth and self awareness.

This information resides in our unconscious. Sometimes it is revealed to us by something that happens, sparked by events or situations, outcomes from choices. It could arrive with a new Aha! It could be uncovered through work we do on any of the other three aspects. By revealing a bit of ourselves to others, we open up a discussion that may provoke some other information to come to light. By taking in what other people are willing to share about what they see, we may also trigger some learnings in the unknown quadrant.

One other way to discover the unknown is through the mirror principle. The mirror principle is a tough concept for most of us to understand when we first hear it. It basically says that whenever we have a strong reaction to someone – positive or negative – it is because they are mirroring something back to us about us. We are like them in some way. This is fine for most people when the reflection is positive. It is much more challenging when we consider the reflection to be negative. The mirror principle gives us some of the most valuable information about ourselves if we are open to receiving it.

One area of my life that had been completely unknown to me and many around me for decades, is my gift to see spirit and work with energy, which I write about in Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. Although I have always believed in energy, spirit, reincarnation and the existence of other life forms, I always thought only very talented and gifted people could access that information, not everyday people like me. When I was first told of my gifts and even when I first experienced them I rejected the information as not being plausible. As I grew to accept and be more curious about these gifts it began to shrink the Unknown aspect of the Johari window and invited me into a deeper exploration of things I did not know about myself. As I began to speak and write about this aspect of who I am, it shrunk this window more and grew the Open window.

The four aspects of the Johari Window are fluid. They are not generally of the exact same size and shape. The more authentic you are, the larger the Open aspect and the more likely you are to continually find ways to expand it. Generally this is done through a process of disclosure and feedback, curiosity and learning. Not only do you become more authentic as you expand your Open aspect, you release energy that can then be used to your benefit and you create more peace and contentment for yourself. It is worth the risk to learn to be more open.

designing a loved life

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