As a professional, you have a perception of yourself that you want to project when speaking with potential employers, bosses, and colleagues. But what if the persona you think you are projecting isn’t what others see? What if you have blind spots? (Spoiler: you do.) What if the skills, talents, and interests that make you you aren’t coming across to others? And what if all of these things are holding you back, causing you to feel stuck, or becoming an obstacle to your success? Don’t fall into the trap of the old expression: “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” When it comes to your career, what you don’t know could negatively impact your progress—and what others don’t yet know about you could limit future opportunities. That’s where the Johari Window can help.
A tool for discovery and greater self-awareness
Created by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham more than 60 years ago, the Johari Window was developed as a tool for self-discovery in group and professional settings during their research on group dynamics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Naming the technique after themselves, (“Johari” comes from combining Joseph and Harrington), the pair went on to publish their research in the Proceedings of the Western Training Laboratory in Group Development by UCLA Extension Office in 1955. The Johari Window became widely used to promote self-awareness and personal development and to better understand group dynamics, team development, and interpersonal/intergroup relationships.
The Johari Window consists of four quadrants, sometimes called windows or selves, which include:
Open: What is known to you and others.
Blind: What is known to others, but not you (your blind spots).
Hidden: What is known to you, but not to others. It’s sometimes referred to as your façade because that’s how you present yourself and can include what you hide—intentionally or unintentionally—from others.
Unknown: What neither you nor others know, sometimes due to lack of cognitive awareness.
Each quadrant embodies your thoughts, feelings, motivations, and personal information as well as experience, skills, interests, and talents. Among groups and teams, working through each quadrant to uncover discrepancies in perception can be a useful framework to establish trust and rapport. However, the Johari Window is not only a powerful tool when used with teams. It also serves as a dynamic framework for self-discovery.
Put the Johari Window to work for you
A big career move includes many steps. The first? Awareness. Perhaps you’re preparing to make a transition like asking for a promotion, applying to your dream company, starting a new business, or switching fields. Still a relevant tool for today more than 60 years after its development, the Johari Window can offer insight into how you think you are presenting, how others see you, and, most importantly, the gaps between the two.
Have you ever hesitated to accept a compliment because you were unaware of what the other person acknowledged in you, only to realize later that they saw a strength or talent you might dismiss? Have you ever resisted feedback from others, but subsequently agreed the feedback was insightful and useful? Have you ever been passed over for an opportunity you knew you were qualified for because the other party wasn’t aware of your skills? Gaps between our self-perception and how we are perceived are common, but the Johari Window can help you close those gaps.
When preparing for your next big career move, or even trying to maximize success within your current role, put the Johari Window to work to maximize your potential for success by closing the gaps of perception and presenting your full professional self. Here’s how you can apply it:
1. Identify your blind spots (Blind Quadrant). What do others know about you that you don’t know? There might be blind spots in the way of opportunities or there might be opportunities that already exist that you’re not aware of. Identifying your blind spots is more than knowing what your weaknesses (or areas of growth, as I like to call them) are; it’s also about learning what strengths, skills, and talents others see in you that you may be dismissing so you can be more open to opportunities.
Take action: start by asking. Identify three people you trust who have known you for at least six months in a professional capacity. Reach out to them to request their insights about areas of growth and skills/strengths you may have overlooked. Potential questions to ask: What do you see as my unique contributions? What do you appreciate about me as a professional? What makes me stand out? Which areas do you see me struggle in? Are there areas I could grow in?
2. Share your talents, skills, and interests (Hidden Quadrant). How often do we assume others know something about us when they don’t? Are you really communicating what you can bring to your work? Think about talents, skills, experience, education, and interests that enrich your work. How do you communicate these, or do you?
Take action: start by telling. Write an exhaustive list of your training, experience, talents, skills, and interests. Reflect on your professional messaging, or how you portray yourself in conversations. Now make an inventory of professional collateral like your website, portfolio, résumé, etc. Jot down notes where there are discrepancies between what you think you communicate and what you actually do.
3. Notice gaps between how you present and how you’re perceived. Once you receive feedback from the three people you reached out to in step 1, above, you’re ready to tackle this step to identify gaps you want to close, as well as what information about your professional contribution is most vital to communicate. This can help you realize how you can take a more integrated approach to how you talk about yourself and conduct yourself professionally that is more representative of you.
Take action: start by assessing. Read through the feedback. What does it bring up for you? Are there any changes you want to make to represent yourself more clearly? Or are there areas of growth you want to focus on improving? Make a list and keep it handy. You’ll make a plan for action in the next step.
4. Implement practical steps to integrate your full professional self. Now it’s time to take action. With greater self-awareness, you can better understand how you want to grow and how to best present your full professional self to others.
Take action: start by aligning. Look over your list from step 3. Brainstorm action steps to address each item on the list and write down when you’ll take the action. For example, if one of your trusted sources of feedback pointed out a skill you possess that isn’t reflected on your website bio or résumé, the action is to integrate that skill into both. Go through your list until you’ve created action steps and a timeline for each change you want to make. Now you’re ready to act!
As you take action to align your full professional self in anticipation of the next step, remember that your next big career move can feel just that: big and daunting. However, tools like the Johari Window can help give you a framework for a more intentional transition. With a greater awareness of how you perceive your skills, talents, and motivations—and how others perceive them—you can close the gap, make a plan for growth, and confidently move forward in your ever-evolving career.