We live in a society where we all present a persona, a mask to the world. This protects us from breaking some of the social and legal rules that structure our society. I can also present us with some limitations in behaviours that can restrict both our performance and our ability to succeed.
The Johari window is a useful tool to apply in the coaching domain. It can be helpful in explaining to a client how they can sometimes limit their self-knowledge and restrict their own understanding of their potential.
Imaginatively named after it’s inventors, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram it can help people understand elements of their behaviour, what they see of themselves, how it could be perceived by others and what isn’t being seen by anyone.
Consider the framework in figure 1 below.
Figure 1: The Johari Window (Adapted)
We all behave in a way that is visible to both ourselves and others.
This is our ‘Open Area’…the face we present to the world. This is constrained by our beliefs, values and social norms but allow us to function in the world. This behaviour is also open to interpretation as we’ll see shortly.
We do, however, hide some of the things we believe (our personality and our desires) from other people and this is the ‘Private Area’.
This often protects both ourselves and others from perhaps harmful thoughts and comments. This is normally hidden by the facade that we present in our ‘Open Area’.
Good examples of this behaviour are how we limit what we say and perhaps tell little ‘white lies’ to protect the feelings of others. Have you ever told your a friend or loved one that they look good in clothing that is perhaps not the best fit for them or attended an event to keep your partner happy, despite not wanting to go. Christmas family parties are a classic. You smile sweetly at people you don’t really want to spend time with, hiding your feelings away in your private area.
People’s behaviour can often be interpreted in a manner different to what was intended. That area is called the ‘Blind Area’, visible to other, but blind to the client.
A coach, along with others will be able to see and comment on both the ‘Open Area’ (behaviour that the client exhibits) and this ‘Blind Area’.
This ‘Blind Area’ is the area that is open to interpretation or behaviour that the client cannot personally see or misinterprets.
This is typified in the boss who thinks they are helping, but the staff member just sees it as over controlling, micromanaging and interfering. This is an area that a coach can be helpful in as the feedback from a coach (especially an external coach) is provided without any agenda other than to benefit the client.
The final area is the ‘Hidden Area’. This is hidden from everyone, and is the region that a coach will help a client explore. This is where a client can find new resources, new values and potentially some very powerful insights into who they are and what it is that they want.
An awareness of the Johari window framework will allow a coach to understand, that a client sometimes interprets their behaviour in an entirely different way to the way that of others interpret that behavior.
Secondly, a discussion about the ‘Hidden Area’ can often allow the client to accept that there are elements of everyone (including themselves) that are hidden from everyone, including themselves.
This allows the coach to them move the client into the frame of mind that allows them to start considering what possibilities are hidden away, just waiting to be discovered and exploited.
This approach can be a very elegant way to help the client see that there is more untapped potential within them, accept that is the case and then agree to spend time looking for that untapped potential.
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