What Is The 'Johari Window' And Why It's Bomb When It Comes To Increasing Self-Awareness
Not too long ago, while in an interview, someone asked me to share what I think is an extremely overlooked reason why a lot of relationships are either unhealthy or don’t end up seeing the distance. Without even a bit of hesitation, I said that far too many people lack even a “kiddie pool level” of self-awareness — and it’s costing them…dearly.
Almost four years ago, I penned an article for xoNecole, "These Are The Things Self-Aware People Do Daily." There’s a quote inside that talks about self-awareness consisting of holding oneself accountable, and lawd, that’s an entire book and podcast series right there! However, when it comes to what we’re going to get into today, it’s another quote that comes to mind. Two psychologists by the names of Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund say that self-awareness is “…the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don't align with your internal standards” — and this is where the Johari Window fits in perfectly.
I must admit that it actually wasn’t until I saw an episode ofBeing Mary Jane back in the day that I even discovered what the Johari Window is. As far as the show goes, long story short, Mary Jane needed to deal with some internal stuff that was causing her to stay in a loop in a lot of her relationships, and the window helped her out.
Since personally studying it, though, it’s something that I’ve done and also recommended to my clients in order for them to receive some of their own “ah ha moments” in their own neck of the woods. So, if you’re ready to get to know your own self a bit better, in hopes of flourishing more in your own interactions with other individuals, let’s do some unpacking of what the Johari Window is and how it can totally help you out.
What Exactly Is the Johari Window?
It’s kind of a long story, yet probably the best way to simplify everything. Back in the mid-1950s, two psychologists by the name of Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram came up with a concept that, in their minds, would help people to better communicate with others, especially when they are interacting in a group setting. It’s called the Johari Window, and Johari is actually the merging of their two first names.
Anyway, the ultimate goal of the Johari Window is to prove that awareness for yourself and trust from others can be better established once you are able to share how you perceive yourself while also being open to hearing feedback from others. In order for this to successfully transpire, there is a window that you must “look into,” and it’s broken down into four parts.
Now before we get into each windowpane, let me just say that it requires a lot of HUMILITY (and yes, I am yelling it) for this to be effective, especially when it comes to hearing what others have to say. This needs to go on record because if you truly want to tap into new levels of yourself, it’s not your job to go on the defensive, to become offended, or to shut down if/when you hear something that isn’t exactly easy or pleasant. Instead, remain open to how you may be perceived so that you can get to understand yourself and your relationships on a whole ‘nother level.
Are you ready to peek through each of the four panes now?
Johari Windowpane #1: Open AreaGiphy
The open area is just how it sounds. It consists of the things that you and those around you already know. On a surface level, this could be the details that are provided about you when someone reads your bio before you make a presentation. On a deeper one, it could be the common things that co-workers, church members, and acquaintances are clued in about, including certain personality traits, various personal skills, and your views and opinions about certain things.
So, let’s start here. Pull out a piece of paper, the notepad on your smartphone, or your journal, and, for 5-10 minutes, jot down all of the things that you think fit into this particular windowpane. For instance, when it comes to me, most people know that I am pretty black and white (in the sense of how I see things), that I have a quick wit and I’m very direct in communication, that I am a marriage life coach, doula and writer (especially in the realm of relationships) and that I have strong convictions when it comes to the covenant, being pro-Black, supporting Black men and folks taking great measures to self-heal. Whether I’m public speaking, writing an article, or in a conversation with someone for more than 15 minutes on a plane, these things are going to come up in some form or fashion.
The open arena is pretty easy to share because they don’t really put you in vulnerable positions as far as mental and emotional intimacy goes.
Johari Windowpane #2: Blind SpotGiphy
Yeah, this is the one where people tend to get pretty testy. A blind spot is something that others may see about you that you don’t exactly perceive yourself. For instance, a few years back, when I decided that I wanted to get on the path of evolving in my femininity, I asked some of my male friends what they thought I needed to do to make that happen. One said that I needed to become a better listener. Another said that I needed to heal from some of the toxic female relatives in my life because whenever certain topics would come up, I was hard to communicate with — sometimes even combative. Another said that it would be cool to see me in some heels every once in a while (listen, put me in some Pumas, and I’m a happy girl!). Some others said some things that I would keep to myself.
Was it easy to take everything in? Nope. Blind spots rarely are because, just like a car can come into your blind spot while you’re trying to change lanes and almost cause you to get into an accident, oftentimes, when people tell you certain things about yourself, you won’t see them coming. However, they’re good for you to know because when you can get — AND RECEIVE — some intel into how you are seen by others, that can help you to either self-correct or come to a greater understanding of why 1) your relationships are the way that they are; 2) you keep finding yourself in the same patterns and outcomes that you get and/or 3) you aren’t going deeper in your dynamics with other people.
Yep. Opening your eyes to blind spots is where the big kids play.
Johari Windowpane #3: FaçadeGiphy
There’s a guy I know who is a straight-up chameleon. He’s an entertainer here in Nashville, and it’s wild how much he is perceived to be a good guy on the surface, and yet — if he were to get 30 women who he’s “dated” (which is basically code for sexually involving himself with), they would have some pretty dark tales to share. On the surface, it comes off that he’s a player or womanizer; however, the few of us who know him beyond that image get that he’s got quite a bit of baggage and damage that causes him to act that way.
This is kinda-sorta where the next windowpane comes in. It’s called the façade, and it consists of the things that you know that others probably don’t — your past, your secrets, your fears, your deep-rooted feelings…your shady side. The interesting thing about this windowpane is even if you withhold it from others, eventually, something about it will creep out in how you act or react because it’s still a part of your core being.
For me, as I’m dealing with couples, the façade can be A LOT because it’s wild to realize how much a lot of partners tend to withhold from one another, whether it’s due to fear of how their spouse will respond or because they set up a “front” of who they were during the dating process and now they don’t know how to stop…acting.
Either way, you can’t develop genuine intimacy with other people if you’re not willing to release your façade (or façades). That said, think of some of the folks who you consider to be your tribe, and then write down some things that you have been hesitant to share with them. Then ask yourself why. Whatever answer comes to your mind will be quite revelatory about what you should do about those relational dynamics next. Trust me.
Johari Windowpane #4: UnknownGiphy
I’m currently working on getting certified and then credentialed in some other areas of coaching, one of which is trauma-related. The reason why I’m bringing this up here is that the final windowpane of not knowing is sometimes tied to trauma that has caused you to block some feelings or important information about yourself out.So, how in the world do you tap into what you — and others — do not know about you? Therapy can help. Life coaching too. Or you can spend some intentional time with someone you trust, talking about certain areas of your life until you receive some revelations about yourself.
For instance, you could set up a wine date with a girlfriend at your house, where the two of you make a plan to talk about your childhood and your childhood dreams. As you’re sharing with each other, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if some things are revealed that one or both of you had totally forgotten about — whether it’s due to trauma, family pressure to suppress certain dreams or wants, or…life simply getting in the way.To me, the unknown is a lot like having dormant spots in your life. By acknowledging them, they can come “back to life” and quite possibly, with a little bit of focus and effort on your part, open up entirely new worlds for you.
5 Benefits of Doing the Johari Window ExerciseGiphy
The interesting thing about the Johari Window is, in many ways, like the beginning stages of life coaching, it was initially designed to help people interact better in group/corporate settings. However, when I watched how Mary Jane freaked it, that’s how I advised people to use it.
If you want to tweak it to apply to a work retreat or business meeting…by all means. First, though, try using it on a more personal note. Aside from all of the things that we already touched on via each windowpane, here are some other reasons why it could be one of the best self-help exercises that you’ve done in a while.
You will be a better communicator. You can’t have successful personal or professional relationships if you don’t communicate effectively, and the better you know yourself, the better you’ll be at expressing yourself. The Johari Window can help to make that happen.
You will be better at emotionally self-regulating. When it comes to blind spots and the unknown, both of those could explain (for example) why you get easily triggered, you are super-sensitive when it comes to correction, or you can’t seem to get a handle on your moods. Unfortunately, a lot of people chalk this kind of stuff up to “well, that’s just the way that I am” when the reality is part of what comes with emotional intelligence, and holistic maturity is knowing that you can absolutely control how you choose to respond and react to things. Getting to know your blind spots and unknown areas plays a big role in that.
You will feel more genuine when interacting with others. Some people define intimacy as knowing and being known. That said, it’s pretty difficult to be truly intimate with someone if you’re hiding parts of yourself or you’re putting up a façade. When you’re willing to give healthy and trustworthy individuals more authentic access to you, that is what makes your relationships more secure and reliable.
You will be able to make better decisions (faster). A part of the reason why some people struggle with the decision-making process is that they are always second-guessing themselves. Oftentimes, that’s because they care too much about what other people think, or they’re not clear enough about what their own standards, boundaries, or needs are. Oh, but believe you me, the better you know yourself, the easier it is to decide which people, places, things, and ideas will complement you and your life. I think that you can see that this is just one more way that the Johari Window can be of service.
Your self-esteem will skyrocket. Imagine how much more confident you will become once you can take honest feedback and apply it. I’m telling you, being able to hear about yourself may not always be easy but when you do it, it reveals that you’re willing to grow at the expense of simply feeding your ego all of the time — and that can make you unstoppable in so many ways and on so many levels.
You know, I can’t think of one person who has walked this through and has not received some real insights on themselves — ones that have made them a better person and a better person to interact with.
So, over the next couple of weeks, treat yourself to the Johari Window exercise. Be open to what you learn — and, at the expense of punning, let the light of the window shine right on through, sis.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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Here's Why Very Few Relationships Can Actually Be 'Platonic'
Recently, while in an interview, someone asked me if I think that men and women can be just friends. I didn’t even hesitate to answer; my response was immediate, “Absolutely.” What I followed that up with is what intrigued them — “Life has taught me that not a lot of male/female dynamics are ‘platonic,’ though.” When they asked me to expound, the interview ended up taking a whole ‘nother turn.
As a writer who really pays attention to word meanings, something that can be a bit frustrating about our culture is the fact that based on whatever is popular at the time, folks will just up and change the original definitions of words to suit a particular agenda or whim — and the word “platonic” 1000 percent fits into this category. And perhaps that’s why we seem to continue to go in circles about whether or not people of the opposite sex can (and should) be friends and what that even can (and should) look like.
Let’s talk about it for a bit. Because as a word-literal type of individual, while again, I absolutely believe that men and women can be friends, at the same time, I think it’s about as rare as a red diamond to truly find yourself in a friendship that is…platonic.
It’s Time (More) Folks Knew What ‘Platonic’ LITERALLY MeansGiphy
So, let's do first things first — let's define what it literally means for something to be platonic. If you go to your favorite search engine and put something along the lines of "What does platonic mean?", the first thing that you're (probably) going to see is a ton of dictionary definitions that say something along the lines of "of, relating to, or being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex" (Merriam-Webster), "designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual or intellectual and without sexual activity" (Your Dictionary) and, my personal favorite, "purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes" (Dictionary). Yeah, bookmark that last one; I'll be circling back.
Keeping this in mind (and please do), where does the word "platonic" actually come from? From what I've researched, the philosopher Plato once penned something entitled "Symposium." In it, he addressed the topic of two people sharing the kind of love that is free of any type of sensual desire, one that is based on divine love alone. An author from the 1800s broke it down this way: "Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry." A write-up on Merriam-Webster's site stated that "The term platonic was initially used to mock non-sexual relationships, as it was considered ridiculous to separate love and sex, but eventually this connotation faded away leaving us with today's notion of close friendships." Yeah, we used to live in a culture where love and sex were not separated. Hmph, that's another article for another time, though (check out "We Should Really Rethink The Term' Casual Sex'").
Anyway, as with many things (especially in our culture), the word "platonic" is kind of used in "broad strokes" these days (bromances, female friendships, etc.). However, because there continues to be this forever discussion — and oftentimes debate — about whether or not men and women can be "just friends," I'm going to tackle this topic strictly from that angle — from the place where platonic actually originated.
Yes, Men and Women Can Be Just Friends. But…Giphy
At this stage in my life, I'm pretty sure that I have more male friends than female ones. There are layers of reasons why, yet I think a huge one is because I like the balance that masculinity brings to my femininity (especially as I'm learning to embrace different aspects of my femininity, intentionally even more). And while every single one of my male friends is respectful and is a super safe space in my world on every single level that I can imagine (and have been for years now), there are probably only a couple who I would say 100 percent qualify as being…trulyplatonic.
Why would I say that? Well, I'll illustrate this point with something that one of my male friends once said to me. He's super cute. He can sing his ass off (and definitely has one of my favorite speaking voices). People see us out together often, and some have told us that they assume that we've had something going on at some point. Anyway, after hearing someone share their theory about us, I told it to him.
Me: "I told him, 'He's my brother. We would never mess around.'"
My Friend: "Correction, you are like a sister. You are not my sister, though. Under the right conditions, you could still get it."
When I shared that exchange with another male friend of mine, he basically cosigned on the sentiment: "Shellie, I have never approached you like that because I really respect you. I want to be good for you for the rest of our lives." (That reminds me: check out "Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?" when you get a chance.)
Then I went to one more guy homie and ran both statements by him: "Girl, yeah. If I didn't want to keep you in my life long-term, I would've tried to holla a long time ago!" And he and I have been friends for almost 20 years at this point. When did he get around to telling me this? Eh, maybe two years ago. LOL.
So, my takeaway from all of these "for real?!" exchanges is even though men and women can be just friends, there is a certain level of intention, self-control, and ability to see into the future (on some level) that must go into account — because, just because something more-than-friends-like may not have gone down, that doesn't mean there isn't a "dormant seed" lying around somewhere…whether it's one-sided or on both sides of the friendship dynamic.
As you can see, I just provided you with three instances where the male friends in my life; we've had nothing sexual or even physically intimate beyond a hug when we greet each other in nature — although things aren't exactly platonic if there is some sort of attraction or sexual/romantic curiosity that simply never got explored. Because again, according to Plato, a platonic relationship is free from all of that kind of…tension — or possibilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
And now you probably get why I entitled this article in the way that I did…right? I mean, just think about it — out of your male friendships, where is there NO sensual desire or dormant romantic interest…on your side and/or on his? If you're not sure about "his"…have you ever asked him? Or them? Because again, once I really let the definition of platonic sink in, I think maybe two guys in my life totally fit the bill.
This brings me to my next point.
Are You Platonic? Or Are You Friend-Zoning?Giphy
Now that you know that probably 70 percent of the people you know (both online and off) have been using the true meaning of platonic all the way wrong, let’s go about deeper: when it comes to your friendships with men, are they genuinely platonic or…is it more like you’re friend-zoning them?
A few years ago, I penned an article on the topic entitled, “Before You 'Friend Zone' Someone, Read This.” If you’re skimming this on your lunch break, I’ll summarize friend-zoning as knowing that a guy has so-much-more-than-platonic feelings for you, yet because you basically want to keep the benefits of the friendship or even his emotions around, you will string him along on some level.
Personally, I can’t stand friend-zoning. I think it’s selfish, with some sprinkles of manipulation and wasting someone’s time. Don’t agree? How would you feel if a guy was friend-zoning you? (Yeah…exactly.)
This all needs to go on record because, knowing that a guy wants to “take it there” with you (whether sexually or romantically), you not full-on addressing it and/or giving him just enough hope to take you out, listen to all of your stories about other men and give you the attention that you need knowing that he doesn’t have a shot in hell — that is NOT a platonic friendship and honestly, you’re not being a good friend at all. Friends protect each other’s hearts, not abuse them.
A platonic friendship means that you both have no interest in each other, and, as Plato put it, while you may have a strong and solid bond, it’s spiritual love that connects you. And what exactly does that mean? Spiritual love also deserves its own article, yet the gist would be that you recognize there is a purpose in your friendship, yet it’s about wanting what’s best for one another and even helping each other to get there.
For instance, a platonic friend of yours may know that you desire to be married one day, so he has no problem setting you up with a good guy in his life. And if things go well, he would have no problem standing up as your own best man (without feeling like he’s dying inside) because he never saw you beyond anything but a friend. A guy in the friend zone doesn’t move like this; he likes you too much to help you move on with someone else. See the difference?
Why Relationships Should Start Off As NON-PLATONIC FriendshipsGiphy
Before I end this with some tips on how to properly care for the few platonic friendships you may actually have, since the use of the word may require a bit of mental reprogramming, I do think we should also address that if you've got a good guy in your life, who right now is a friend and either you've never thought of him in that way or the topic has never come up — he's someone that you may not want to brush off.
What I mean by that is, it's one thing for there to be absolutely no interest in someone vs. never considering it before — and the reason why you might want to give it some thought is because, ask any healthy married couple who's been together for more than five years and I'll bet you my next rent check that they will say that the best relationships are birthed out of friendship (check out "Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?").
Yeah, just because you've filed someone in the "I see him as a good guy" category, that doesn't automatically mean that y'all's friendship is platonic. For instance, I have a male friend who is fine and I adore on many levels, yet the reason why it would never work on my end is because there are certain relational standards that I have that he does not meet. However, don't get it twisted — I've considered him because, on so many levels, we "fit." So, the mere fact that I ever seriously thought about him on that level means that we are "good friends," yet it's not exactly platonic.
I'm not free of potential sensual desire…I just choose not to act on it. Yet because I get the value of having friendship as the foundation for my own future marriage (should life play out that way), I am wise enough to know that I would've been a fool to not at least…ponder him and the possibilities.
So yeah, if there is a male friend in your life that the thought of dating or having sex with him doesn't make you want to throw up in your mouth, there's a pretty good chance that it's not a classic platonic dynamic — and you might want to consider if it could/should go to the next level — if not immediately, eventually. Because there's a pretty good chance that if you are thinking that way, he probably is as well.
Protect Your Genuine Platonic Friendship(s) At All CostsGiphy
Let me end this with how one of my platonic friendships rolls. We both think that the other is attractive, yet neither of us is attracted. We both give each other opposite-sex insights. We both have said that the mere thought of dating each other makes our noses turn up like there’s an odor in the air. And even when I try to imagine us together, my mind goes blank. I love, love, LOVE this man — oh, but it is absolutely nothing more than platonic — and he feels the same way. It’s as close to familial love without being blood relationships. It’s a rare dynamic, and that is what makes it so special. There is definitely a spiritual type of love there; no more, no less.
If you’ve got someone in your life who you feel the same way about (again, it’s got to be mutual; he must feel that way, too), you’ve got a gem of a situation going on because there is nothing like having the kind of friendship where you and a guy can hang out, exchange perspectives and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, knowing that’s all it is and will ever be. Things will never get weird. No one’s feelings are gonna get hurt (from the whole friend-zoning thing). You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can just be.
And that’s why I’m all for platonic friendships. And listen, if you’re blessed enough to have even one in your lifetime, be fiercely protective of it. Don’t take it for granted. Nurture it in a way that your male friend needs (because it probably won’t be the exact same as your female friendships). Y’all, platonic friendships are so bomb because, if it’s honored and protected correctly, it’s the one male friend that you can probably keep for life because even your romantic partner will not find it to be a (true) threat — hell, they honestly could probably end up becoming (some level of) friends with your platonic homie as well.
I hope that I broke this all down enough to where, when you decide to use a word to describe your opposite-sex friendships, perhaps you will pause and ask yourself, “Wait, is this a platonic friend or a good or close friend?” Because the clearer you are on the differences, the easier it will be to know how to maintain your friendship — and feel about your friend. Feel me? Cool.
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