What is the Johari Window and how can it help improve your personal safety?

Written by Esteban Tristan, Corporate Safety Director

When a friend or a co-worker tells you that you act in a certain way, how often do you agree with them? How well do you know your behaviour relative to how other people see you? If you are like most people, there are lots of things people can say about you that you admit are true.

But let’s face it – some of us have better self-awareness than others. I bet that right now, you can easily think of someone you know who has no clue that they act in a certain way (e.g., forgetful, picky, loud) even though everybody else around them seems to know it. We often refer to these as ‘blind spots.’ These are the things about ourselves that others can see, but we do not.

Now, let’s take the opposite of a blind spot – the things we know about ourselves, but no one else (or only those closest to us) really knows about us. We all have parts of our lives that we prefer to keep private for various reasons, so these remain ‘hidden’ from others.

Lastly, there are some things we may not know about ourselves at all, and others do not know it either. You may have a hidden talent for writing, auto repair, managing people, or playing bocce – who knows? Unless you tried it for a while, you might never find out and neither would anyone else. These are basically ‘unknown.’

If you consider these four areas of ourselves – open, blind, hidden, and unknown – they cover all our potential tendencies and behaviours. It can be a fruitful exercise to examine these parts of ourselves and there is a commonly used model that is specifically designed to help us with this: the Johari Window.

The Johari Window is a technique used for various purposes, including self-help groups, team building exercises, and coaching. Created in 1955 by the psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, it was designed to help individuals have a better understanding of themselves, and to help them develop better relationships with others. The name ‘Johari’ is named by combining the first names of its creators – Joe and Harry.

The table below illustrates the basic Johari Window, with four distinct quadrants for each of the areas (referred to by some as ‘rooms’) I discussed earlier.

Johari Window

Known to selfNot known to self
Known to othersOpenBlind spot
Not known to othersHiddenUnknown

While the Johari Window model can have many applications, it is not typically used for safety behaviour. That’s a shame because it can have tremendous value in helping us better understand our own safety behaviour. For example, let’s take the basic behaviour of risk-taking. Using the simple table I’ve created below, we can look at our risk-taking through each of the four areas, or windows, of the model.

Known to selfNot known to self
Known to othersI’m a risk taker and everyone knows it.
People say I take risks, but I don’t think I do.
(Blind spot)
Not known to othersI take risks when people aren’t looking.
I’m not a risk taker, and no one else would say that I am.
  1. Open – In this quadrant, I may be well aware that I am comfortable taking risks, along with others. In this case, I would agree when people tell me I drive too fast or that I am impulsive because I know that about myself.
  2. Blind – Here, I would not see myself at all as a risk taker, even though most people think I am. In this case, I honestly don’t believe that I drive that fast or I really see myself as someone who thinks carefully before I act.
  3. Hidden – In the lower left quadrant, I always drive the speed limit when someone else is in the car with me, but I speed big time when I’m by myself. If it’s just me, I make decisions quickly and on the fly, but when others are involved, I try to get their input before I act.
  4. Unknown – Finally, this quadrant is where the hidden potential lies. I may always drive the speed limit until one day when there’s an emergency. Or I may be the most methodical and cautious decision-maker until I’m faced with few options and little time.

Risk-taking is one example, but there are so many other traits, abilities, and actions that shape our safety behaviours. It all depends on our personal SafetyDNA®. Research has now shown that there are many traits, abilities, and other characteristics that predict safe behaviour, and that we all possess different levels of these characteristics. This makes up our own unique SafetyDNA profile and explains why some people consistently exhibit more at-risk behaviours and are injured more than others over time and across situations.

The Johari Window technique can help us see our behaviour in a more complete way and can help us change certain unsafe behaviours that put us at risk. We cannot change what we are not aware of, and it’s also hard to change bad habits when they are hidden from others. In essence, we want to continuously shrink the size of our own blind, hidden, and unknown windows, and thereby increase the size of our ‘open’ window, so our safety behaviours can be more open to ourselves and others.

But what can we do to apply this model to our safety behaviour? Here are a few simple ways:

  1. Seek feedback from others. Ask others who are close to you to give you honest feedback on your safety behaviours. Ask them to tell you when they see you doing something unsafe or when they hear you say things that are not in line with how you see yourself when it comes to safety. This will help to shrink your ‘blind’ window.
  2. Take a psychological assessment to find out your SafetyDNA. There are a few well-vetted psychological assessments out there that can tell you how you are mentally ‘hard wired’ when it comes to safety. It’s more than just risk-taking. A well-designed online assessment can also tell you things like how you think about rules, how aware or distractible you are, or how well you can stay calm under pressure – all key parts of a person’s SafetyDNA profile.
  3. Open up about your behaviour. If you know you do things that put you or others at risk, challenge yourself to share that with someone. Whether it’s texting and driving or taking shortcuts on safety procedures, share that with someone you trust and encourage them to ask you how it’s going with that habit. You’d be surprised what transparency and accountability can do in terms of reducing your ‘hidden’ window of behaviours.
  4. Monitor yourself. By increasing your self-awareness and looking out for how you react in different situations, you can find out more about your ‘unknown’ self and shrink the size of that window as well. You may be capable of things you did not know, and these could be good or bad in terms of safety.

While not commonly used in workplace safety efforts, the Johari Window can help anyone analyze and manage their safety behaviours. This will help you shrink the size of your blind, hidden, and unknown windows which, in turn, will increase the size of your open window. That will put you on a path towards improving workplace safety.

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