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If You Really Wanted to Help Me Know Myself


Anyone who knows me knows that I like to organize my thinking with graphic organizers—charts, tables, graphs—but my all-time favorite is a 2x2 matrix.

(This is probably why I created The Engagement Matrix in my book Engagement is Not a Unicorn [It's a Narwhal]).

Another matrix I love is the Johari Window (see below). According to Wikipedia:

The Johari window is a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. It was created by psychologists Joseph Luft (1916–2014) and Harrington Ingham (1916–1995) in 1955, and is used primarily in self-help groups and corporate settings as a heuristic exercise. Luft and Ingham named their model "Johari" using a combination of their first names.

What’s so interesting to me is that even though there are four “panes” in the window, each person only has access to two panes for themselves and two for others. This is because no one has access to the information in the “Unknown Self” pane (unremembered things like your dream last night that you forgot already or unconscious behaviors like why you sniff your nose while bluffing at poker). Some people think that the Unknown Self pane isn’t even real because if you don’t know it, then maybe it doesn’t even exist. That’s a conversation for another day…

When looking at yourself, you are able to see the “Open Self” pane and the “Hidden Self” pane. In fact, the Open Self pane is what others see about you too because this is what you share with them. These things include what I shared in last week’s Lyon’s Letter (If You Really Knew Me). In the Hidden Self pane are things I know about myself that I don’t share with others. These are my private thoughts. Certainly, the closer our relationship, the more open I am, but there are things that all of us think or feel or have experienced that we have never told a soul.

When you’re looking at others, you are also only able to see two panes: the “Open Self” pane of the other person (i.e., what they disclose to you) and the “Blind Self” pane of that person. The Blind Self includes things you know about that person but they don’t know about themselves. For example, have you ever interacted with someone who seems to think of themselves as kind but that person acts like a jerk? Or, have you ever been in a meeting or a class where the person speaking keeps repeating the same phrase over and over again? These people are blind to this information about themselves that other people can see.

Though the image of the Johari Window I’ve included here has four equal quadrants, in reality, the pane representing the Open Self is the largest and the pane for the Unknown Self is the smallest. That said, the pane that I think about the most is not what I share with others (the Open Self) or hide from others (Hidden Self), but the Blind Self. I wonder what people know about me that I don’t know. I wish that I would have the insight they have about me that I do not possess. I can’t help but be curious about what difference it would make on who I am and how I behave.

The truth is that I am wired to assume the worst. I think that what people would say about me would be something that would be disparaging or hard for me to hear. Would they say my breath smells, I am unkind, I talk too much? I have been on the receiving end of being told things about myself that I didn’t know. For example, I can think of an instance where what was said was important for me to hear, but the way it was said was hurtful and cruel. Another time, I was working as a summer camp counselor. At the end of the summer I was evaluated and given several pieces of feedback about work that they wished I would have done differently. In that moment, I felt exposed because they told me things I didn’t know, but I also felt disappointed because I was not given the opportunity to apply the feedback to that job—it was a summer job that ended. Why didn’t they tell me that information sooner when I could have made changes? My biggest learning from that experience was that the best feedback is timely. As I reflect on the instances of being told information from the Blind Self pane, I see that learning about things that I can improve on is good, but sometimes the message can often be lost in the delivery.

When I think more about the Blind Self pane, I realize that most of the time the insights people give me are validating and even complimentary. Most people try to take the time to share kind words and encouragement. The world is filled with more people who try to build others up when they share glimpses into the Blind Self pane for others. When you look around, you are more likely to find people who will fill your bucket than people who want to tear you down. The sad irony is that most of us, including myself, are more likely to be dismissive of kind words or compliments than of harsh critique. Why? Because we are our own worst enemies. The way we can talk to ourselves about ourselves is often worse in delivery and content than what anyone would say to us.

I’m not exactly sure how we help ourselves get out of that mindset, but I do think there is a good way to help others. Specifically, we need to help others see their Blind Self panes in ways that are respectful and supportive. That doesn’t mean you lie or give everyone a verbal trophy—it means you recognize that your insight will help that person grow and optimal growth happens in optimal conditions. What are optimal conditions for human growth? According to April Stevenson’s blog, “Kidblog,”

John Gottman, a researcher, studied positive and negative relationships among 700 married couples believed that negative experiences (words and emotions) needed to be balanced with positive experiences in a relationship in order for the relationship to be successful. He thought that there was a ratio of positive and negative experiences to balance or cancel the negative. Gottman used a 5:1 ratio, 5 positives to every 1 negative in his study. Ten years after his study he found that he was 94% correct on the his divorce rate prediction based on his study. There are many other researchers who support a ratio in negative to positive experiences, the ratios vary from 7:1-4:1, that I have seen.

Though Gottman’s research was on married couples, I would venture to say that the 5:1 ratio is a good place to start for all feedback no matter if it’s with your spouse or anyone else. What's more, notice that balance in this ratio is not 1:1, but a lot to a little.

The lesson here is that if you want to help someone else see something about themselves that they can’t see without you, do so with feedback that is timely and balanced. Approaching it in any other way means that there are probably things in your Blind Self pane that we need to talk about.


P.S. Please remember to...

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