The Johari window (developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham) is a model describing how receptive or open an individual is to giving and receiving feedback.
If you regard the four fields as columns and rows, the two columns represent ‘myself’ and the two rows ‘the group’. Column 1 represents what I know about myself, Row 1 shows what the group knows about me, and row 2 what they don’t know about me. The size of the fields will depend on the degree of mutual confidence. This confidence depends largely on the group’s ability to give and receive feedback. The size of the different fields consequently varies within the frame of the window as a whole.
The first field, Arena, or Open/Free Area, shows what I know about myself and also what the group knows about me. This field is characterised by an open exchange between myself and others. The field becomes larger when the trust between group members increases, which occurs when they exchange personal information with one another.
The second field, Blind, shows what I don’t know about myself, but what others know about me. When I participate in a group, I communicate both verbally and non-verbally in a number of different ways, some of which I am unaware of, for example gestures and actions, how I say things, the way I approach people etc.
The third field, Front, or Hidden Area (sometimes called Façade), shows what I know about myself, but what the group doesn’t know about me. There can be reasons why I conceal this information from the group.
For example, I may feel that I don’t have the support of the group, or may feel insecure. I assume that they dislike my sentiments, ideas and reactions, but never know this for sure since I avoid revealing more of myself and the risks associated with this. Another reason for omitting to provide certain information is that I want to manipulate or control the group.
The last field consists of things which neither I nor the group know about me. Some of this material lies hidden so deeply under the surface that I perhaps will never become aware of it, while other material may lie closer to the surface and can emerge through feedback. This field is called the Unknown and represents, for example, childhood experiences, hidden strengths and undiscovered abilities. It is impossible for a person to know everything there is to know about himself/herself, and for this reason this field has a supplementary field to illustrate that certain material will always remain under the surface, the Unconscious.
An important goal with group processes is to increase the individual’s knowledge of him/ herself, i.e. to reduce the blind and unknown fields and move the vertical line to the right. As this field contains information which others know about me but which I don’t know about myself, the group must give me feedback. The more receptive I am to their feedback, the further the vertical line will move to the right (see arrow in above model).
Another goal is to increase the efficiency of the group. This requires greater openness. Greater openness can be achieved by reducing the size of the front and unknown fields, i.e. by moving the horizontal line downwards. The front field contains information which, for various reasons, I consciously withhold from the group.
I can reduce my front by giving feedback to the group about what I think and feel about what is happening within the group. The group will learn where I stand and will not need to guess or try to interpret my standpoint and behaviour.
As I reduce my blind, front and unknown fields, I increase my arena. However, it is important that there is a balance between the desire to give and to receive feedback. Imbalance can affect my ability to contribute to the group becoming more effective.
How large the arena becomes consequently depends partly on the total amount of feedback that can be processed in the group, and partly on the balance between the feedback which the individuals give, and respectively receive.
Characteristics of the four fields
Model 1: Open person
Model 1 is the ideal window in a group situation and in the majority of other relationships. A person with a large arena can be described as Open. He feels secure in the group. As a consequence, the other members of the group do not misunderstand him and can recognise their own views and feelings in his comments or behavior.
However, it is not always desirable to have such a large arena. For example, with superficial relationships a large arena can be experienced as threatening or improper.
Model 2: The Questioner
The large front in model 2 illustrates a person whom we can call the Questioner. He provides no feedback, i.e. does not talk about what he thinks and feels, but instead prefers to put questions to the group. He participates in the group process by receiving a moderate amount of information – he wants to know what others think before revealing himself. Since this individual reveals little of himself, he can be the cause of feelings of irritation, mistrust and restraint among the group.
Model 3: The Teller
Model 3 shows a large blind field. This person, the Teller, wants to give feedback but is not open enough to receive any. His style of participation is to tell the group members what he thinks of them, how he finds the group, and his views on the group’s tasks and way of working and reaching decisions. He can criticise the entire group in the belief that he is being open and objective, but is insensitive to any feedback from them. Either he is a bad listener or he receives feedback in such a way that the members of the group are discouraged from continuing. For example, he can become angry, begin to cry or threaten to leave. Afterwards, he is even less sure how to get through to the others, or of their impression of him. Since he doesn’t process or understand the feedback he receives, the group cannot deal with his reactions. Communication becomes one-way and he is no longer an effective member of the group.
Model 4: The Clam
The last model with the big Unknown field illustrates a person, the Clam, who doesn’t know a great deal about himself. The group doesn’t know much about him either. He is the silent group member, or the observer, who neither gives nor receives feedback. It is difficult for the group members to know what he stands for or what sort of impression they make on him. He appears mystical and encapsulated in himself. When someone asks him why he doesn’t participate, he might answer “I learn more by listening”. Group members who do not actively engage themselves or participate in the group receive far too little feedback since the group does not receive sufficient material to react to. An active group member, however, reveals more of himself and provides information which the group can give feedback on. This can sometimes be painful for the active member, but he will learn a lot more than the passive member.
The idea behind giving and receiving feedback is that the group should become more effective. If information is transferred from the blind and front fields to the arena, everyone has access to it. Feedback also gives greater self-knowledge, and hidden talents which were previously unknown can come be revealed.