My Favorite Coaching Tool to Help Improve Self-Awareness

I wholeheartedly agree with my friend and pastor Eddie Park that the single greatest skill a twenty-something can develop is self-awareness.

It doesn’t take much to convince leaders how self-awareness plays an instrumental role in the development of one’s leadership and success. But, those who actually apply themselves and cultivate daily habits to expand self-awareness are truly rare. I am far more impressed by those who deliberately practice self-awareness on a regular basis. Doing always trumps saying!

The Johari Window


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Here’s one of my favorite tools that I often use in my coaching sessions: The Johari Window. And, it works every single work. It is so simple, powerful and relevant that every leader should have this under his/her belt.

The Johari Window was designed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 to help people to understand and know themselves better, desire self-improvement, as well as to understand their relationships with other people. Imagine a window with four panes, each pane having its own area. If you use Microsoft Windows, you might want to think of having four windows open on the monitor at the same time. These panes of the windows can either expand or contract. Here’s what the four windows look like.

RELATED: 7 Tips for Leaders to Improve Self-Awareness

1. Open Area – what is known by the person about himself and is also known by others.

  • The aim should always be to develop the ‘open area’ for every person, because when we work in this area with others we are at our most effective and productive, and the group is at its most productive too. The open area can be seen as the space where good communications and cooperation occur, free from distractions, mistrust, confusion, conflict and misunderstanding.
  • Established team members logically tend to have larger open areas than new team members. New team members start with relatively small open areas because relatively little knowledge about the new team member is shared. The size of the open area can be expanded horizontally into the blind space, by seeking and actively listening to feedback from other group members.

2. Blind Area – what is unknown by the person about himself but which others know

  • This blind area is not an effective or productive space to be in. This blind area could also be referred to as ignorance about oneself, or issues in which one is deluded. It’s the broccoli in your teeth. A blind area could also include issues that others are deliberately withholding from a person.
  • Group members and managers can take some responsibility for helping an individual to reduce their blind area – in turn increasing the open area – by giving sensitive feedback and encouraging disclosure. Leaders should promote a climate of non-judgmental feedback.

3. Hidden Area – what the person knows about himself that others do not know

  • The hidden area could also include sensitivities, fears, hidden agendas, manipulative intentions, secrets – anything that a person knows but does not reveal, for whatever reason. This might come from walls of self-preservation. People are asking themselves: Is there anything to hide? to prove? afraid of losing?
  • When you actively engage in disclosure, you tell others how you feel and other information about yourself which will reduce the hidden area. This will increase the open area which enables better cooperation, trust, and team-working effectiveness.
  • Organizational culture and working climates have a major influence on group members’ preparedness to disclose their hidden selves. Most people fear judgement or vulnerability and therefore hold back hidden information and feelings. Again, leaders define culture.

4. Unknown Area – what is unknown by the person about himself and is also unknown by others

  • Large unknown areas would typically be expected in younger people, and people who lack experience or self-belief.
  • Here are examples of unknown factors:
    • an ability that is under-estimated or un-tried through lack of opportunity, encouragement, confidence or training
    • a natural ability or aptitude that a person doesn’t realize they possess
    • a fear or aversion that a person does not know they have
    • conditioned behavior or attitudes from childhood

Key Insights from the Johari Window

  1. It is stressful and draining to keep secrets, hide things and maintain a large hidden area.
  2. When the open area increases, people have more resources, skills and energy. It expands one’s interpersonal network significantly.
  3. The smaller the open area, the poorer the interpersonal communication.
  4. Though there is universal curiosity for the unknown area, this curiosity is held back due to custom, social training and irrational fears.