1. Verklan, M. Terese PhD, CCNS, RNC

Article Content

What is she thinking?" "I can't believe he just did that!!" "What do you mean, I was rude in the meeting?" Sound familiar? You have likely used these phrases once or twice yourself!! It is all about the process of human interaction. We are not always aware of how we look to others, because we do not have absolute knowledge of our own selves. A Johari Window can be used to increase your personal awareness as well as that of your coworkers.1 The model divides personal awareness into 4 types that can be represented by a window divided into 4 quadrants-open, blind, hidden, and unknown. The boundary lines between the quadrants can be thought of as curtains, in which the shade can be open or drawn, wide or narrow, as personal interaction progresses (Fig 1).

Figure 1 - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure 1. Johari Window.

The "open" quadrant corresponds to things that everyone, including me, knows about me. In the neonatal intensive care unit, everyone knows that I am a neonatal clinical nurse specialist who likes a thorough report on her patient assignments, values punctuality, and has respect for people's time. In addition to factual information, you also know my likes, dislikes, goals, attitudes, emotions, in essence, lots of information that makes up Terese. Thus, those who know me well would have a wide window with the curtain drawn up, whereas those who did not know me would have a much smaller "view" inside. The curtain can go up or down as we interact. In a give and take situation, I personally disclose something to you, and you reciprocate by sharing something with me that was in your "hidden" category.


The "hidden" quadrant contains things I know about, but am keeping from others. A family member's illness, household repairs, or a holiday trip would not fall lightly into the conversation unless someone knew enough about me to ask. While it is no secret that my Jack Russell is my "son" and I love to pretend at gourmet cooking with my friends, the information is not yet known to you. Well, now it is!! Self-disclosure increases with interaction, such that there is the potential to really learn a lot about where I grew up, family values, and what experiences I have had that shaped the person I am today. As soon as you learn something about me, this window becomes smaller and the "open" window gets larger.


The "blind" quadrant represents things I do not know about me, but you do. For example, I have a very bad habit of sighing when I am bored-my mother tells me I have done this since I was a child. But I do not know that I am actually doing it and someone may think I am frustrated with her or him. A new hire is 45 minutes late to a meeting and is constantly interrupting the meeting to speed up. I answer his queries with brief responses and get back to where the meeting was since the timeline is tight. He tells you later how rude I was because he saw my furrowed brow, noted the quick short responses to his questions, and thought that I was dismissing him totally by returning to the agenda. You tell the new hire that I may appear to be abrupt because I run a meeting on time, out of respect for people already present, which is one of the reasons I was assigned to be the project leader. Thus, you are providing the new person with something that you know about me, which is hidden from him. As a colleague, it may help future interactions if you tell me about these "blind" behaviors others see that I have no awareness of. To do so requires tremendous trust on your part; however, by teaching me more about myself, you are fostering my growth and awareness.


The "unknown" quadrant contains information regarding behaviors, feelings, and beliefs that neither of us knows about each other. How will the new nurse function with her first critical neonatal admission? Her or his first code? Being on transport when the ambulance gets into an accident? There are a lot of situations that bring out the strengths and weaknesses in each other. Recognition of these novel characteristics moves the information from the unknown to the open, hidden, or blind window, depending on how we each recognize the behavior. For example, I know that I am an "adrenaline jockey"-one of those nurses who like babies with labile conditions. Someone may keep information in their "hidden" window that they get flustered with critically ill babies and prefer to nurse the stable premature baby. Assigning this person the baby about to go on ECMO may precipitate a crisis wherein the nurse gets flustered, does not perform well with clinical skills, forgets to do routine laboatory work, and has difficulty interacting with colleagues on the shift, all in all, a lose-lose situation.


Most of us try to communicate using only the "open" window, and forget about the body language and the importance of eye contact and communication styles. By keeping feelings or thoughts "hidden," we may send out mixed or faulty communication that others criticize because it is unorganized or just does not make sense in the big picture. If the person has healthy self-esteem, she or he may respond to your message in a way that reveals something that was in your "blind" window. If you are open to constructive criticism, you move the information to your "open" window and a healthy interaction can move forward. If you are not open to the message, defense mechanisms such as denial, rejection, or ambivalence may be used, and the person attempting to clarify the message is pushed away. All of us have different communication styles, temperaments, and personal stressors we try to keep out of our professional life. But we still carry all of ourselves wherever we go.


The next time you hear "That nurse is so hard to get along with" or you observe a situation developing between interested parties, try to place each person within a window and see where the curtain falls.


M. Terese Verklan, PhD, CCNS, RNC


Associate Professor and Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist School of Nursing, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, Tex




1. Luft J. Of Human Interaction. Palo Alto, Calif: National Press; 1969. [Context Link]