What Do You Unknowingly Communicate? Lessons from the Johari Window

By Timothy J. Keogh, PhD
February 9, 2018

This group dynamics tool can help leaders learn more about how they are seen by others and, in turn, how to better get their ideas across. 

Part of your success — whether in the boardroom or office, in the lab, with patients or with students — depends on the fundamentals of good communication. Good communication skills are important in everything from answering the phone to holding a meeting with your peers.

tim keogh

Tim Keogh

This article focuses on an important communication question:

What do you unknowingly communicate to others?

Most of us don’t have an accurate idea of how we are viewed by others.

Do people listen to you because of how you sound and what you look like, or do they listen to you because of the value of your ideas, the clarity of your statements, or the incisiveness of your thinking?

Most people believe they are listened to because of the value of their ideas.

The actual answer may be a combination. Listeners may be influenced as much by the way you say things as by what you say. Your style of communication may be more obvious to others than you think.

When people listen to you, whether it’s colleagues, staff, supervisor, patients or the families of patients, they are listening to the words you use, but they are also reading the nonverbal signals you are sending. The tone of your voice, the way you set your eyebrows, the distance of your chin from your chest as you speak, and the decibel level at which you speak, are all data points your listeners intuitively use to gather meaning. Because you are in a leadership position, it is crucial for you to have some idea of how others see you when you communicate.

One way of learning more about how we are seen by others is through a group dynamics tool called the Johari Window. 

The Johari Window was designed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham.1 

These sociologists wanted to give people a framework for thinking about their interaction with others. The term “Johari” came from the first parts of their names, and “Window” came from the arrangement of four “panes,” or views, of the internal and external influences on our communication styles. The panes of the Johari Window help us visualize what we need to do to find better communication balance. 

The four panes of the Johari Window are labeled like this: 

Johari 1.jpg

In the upper left, the Arena pane represents what we display to others by such obvious and public outward signs as what we buy to wear and use. The Arena represents what I know about myself and what I choose to let others know about me.

We may select a certain perfume or cologne that says something about us. We may wear jewelry or a certain kind of watch to display our personal taste. The kind of shoes we wear, as well the cars we drive, tell people things we want them to know about us. People read these external attributes and make judgments about who we are.

The bottom-left pane of the Johari Window is the Facade, which represents what we do not choose to reveal to others but what is very real to us, and exerts a powerful influence on our behavior. It is what I know about myself, but others do not know about me. The Facade contains things we do not tell even our best friends, spouses or parents.  

These are things we block from public view. They are the mental baggage that we may have accumulated from youth when we measured ourselves against others. In some cases, our fears or feelings of inadequacy are in the Facade.

What we know about ourselves, but what others don’t know, can powerfully influence our behavior. We may make choices for reasons that we will not reveal.

Our professional decisions can also be influenced by the elements of our Facade.

A great deal of effort and mental energy is required to keep the contents of the Facade contained. We may fear that some of our inadequacies may one day escape at an inopportune moment to cause us embarrassment or pain, so we tend to avoid activities that might expose the contents of our Facade. The cost in terms of our mental energy varies, but that energy would be better spent on more productive ventures. The larger the Facade, the more mental energy it takes to control its contents. 

The upper-right pane is the Blind Spot. This contains what others know about us but about which we don’t have a clue. This pane is important to understand because we are often better at analyzing the behavior of others than our own behavior. 

It is particularly important to understand how our behavior changes when we are tired, hurried or stressed. These internal conditions become obvious to others from our facial expressions, our tone of voice, the volume we use, the brevity of our comments and a range of attributes that are readily apparent to others, but may be less apparent to us.

Some common blind spots we frequently notice in others are:

  • Cutting people off before they are finished speaking.
  • Taking too long of a turn when speaking to others and not letting them get a word in.
  • Multitasking when we should be listening to someone.

The final pane of the Johari Window is the Unknown. This is what we don’t know about ourselves and what others don’t know about us. The Unknown involves our capacity for insight about ourselves. 

We can get insight about our Blind Spot from observing the behavior of others while we are in conversation with them, as well as by asking explicitly for feedback about our behavior.

Insight about how others see us can also be gained by looking at some of the adjoining panes of the Johari Window. If we look at the Arena and the Façade together, this combination represents what we choose to reveal to others about ourselves, as well as what we know about ourselves that we do not reveal to others. This combination can be called our Self-Image.   

Johari 2 .jpgIf we look at a second combination of panes, the Arena and the Blind Spot, this combination represents what we know about ourselves, what others know about us, but, also, what we don’t know about ourselves. This combination can be called our Public Image.  

Johari 3 .jpg

The combinations of these panes of the Johari Window help us understand that how we think others see us may not always be accurate, because our Public Image may be quite different from our Self-Image.

The insight you have about yourself and the awareness you have about how you are seen by others helps you adjust the size of the panes of the Johari Window. When we learn about our Blind Spot behaviors and understand more about the contents of our Facade, these two panes become smaller. When this happens, the size of the Arena increases. This configuration is called the Natural State. The Natural State represents the least stressed, most insightful combination of the panes of the Johari Window. It represents a balanced approach to communication.  

Johari 4 .jpg

Without this balance, we might have a very small Arena and not reveal much about ourselves. We may be quite good at eliciting information from patients but are closed when it comes to giving out information about ourselves. In such a case, we would have a larger Facade in which we keep our personal history. 

Or, we may have a relatively small Blind Spot, because we may be good at noticing things about ourselves and have a good sense of diplomacy and social standards. 

On the other hand, we may have a large Blind Spot and very little insight about ourselves and our impact on others. We may be able to make decisions and act quickly, but with little concern for the effect of our actions on others, and even less thought given to introspection. 

Then there may be some of us who spend a lot of mental and emotional energy to maintain a hermit-like status, which reveals as little as possible about ourselves to others. In this case, we don’t care to learn about ourselves and, therefore, have a relatively large Blind Spot. 

When you strive to achieve the Natural State, represented by a large Arena, you are on track to maintain the balanced communication that a successful physician leader must have.

Timothy J. Keogh, PhD, is an adjunct associate professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, where he teaches negotiation in the master of health administration program. He is also an American Association for Physician Leadership®  faculty member.


  1. Luft, J. Group Dynamics, 3rd ed. Palo Alto, California: Mayfield Publishing, pp. 11- 20, 1984.        

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