A Window of Opportunity for Anyone With a Boss

Networking WAC Event Attendees

Are there things you’re not communicating to your boss?

When I was first introduced to a self-improvement exercise named the Johari Window, my instinct was to group it in with the countless gimmicks associated with the self-help industry, and just move on. The name alone seemed a contrived attempt to tap into our hunger for mystique, appealing with subtle desperation to our new-agey impulses. But when it was explained to me that Guiding Change Consulting founder and Women’s Advancement Compact specialist Deborah Howard would be incorporating the half-century-old technique into last Wednesday’s WAC Corporate Communications presentation, and that the name Johari was simply the fusing of its creators’ first names (Joe and Harry), I knew instantly that my impressions were way off-base, and I wanted in on this secret.

Over 50 people with various connections to WAC were present that Wednesday evening at Alston & Bird LLP, to hear Deborah Howard speak, and to dive deep within themselves, examining their relationships with their bosses from some unlikely perspectives. With the help of Joe & Harry, the guidance of Ms Howard, and much intimate discussion in 2 different breakout group formats, we all walked away with an enlightened outlook we can carry with us throughout the rest of our careers.

WAC Breakout Session at Alston & Bird

Your empty seat at today’s meeting is impacting your reputation for your colleagues

To familiarize us with the Johari Window, Deborah Howard laid out the basics, and then utilized our input to animate the possibilities. Picture a simple graph which resembles a window with 4 panes. One pane represents everything that is public knowledge about you (your blue eyes, your great laugh), the next pane represents what others know about you, but that you are not aware of (your bad breath, your chattiness), the 3rd pane represents what neither you nor anyone else knows about you (you’re losing your hearing, it’s a boy!), and the final pane represents the things that only you know about yourself because you’ve kept them from others (you color your hair, you love The Bee-Gee’s). It may seem entirely normal to structure our lives according to such a prescription, but when we remain “too private”, there are a range of pitfalls that lurk just beneath the surface.

To keep the proper channels of workplace communication open, Ms Howard recommends that window pane #1 be expanded, for, in the process, the other 3 windows shrink, appropriate knowledge about you is revealed, and many workplace misconceptions begin to dissolve. Essentially, we need to open our minds to the idea that keeping too much of our private lives private can be nonsensical, and that attempting to avoid embarrassment can backfire on us. For instance, if your child has special needs which often require you to arrive late for meetings, but you want to keep his condition private, you may be viewed by your boss and colleagues as unreliable. One guest on Wednesday contributed an excellent example: His hypothetical colleague had been arriving to work late every day, perhaps unshaven, and wore the same suit for weeks on end. The truth was he had lost his house in the storm, and was living with a friend 2 hours farther away from the office. But until his predicament was revealed, the boss assumed that he had grown lazy and irresponsible, and was poised to let him go.

Deborah Howard is all ears

Deborah Howard earns some feedback from a WAC event guest

Now, keep in mind that not all legitimate scenarios need to be this severe— each individual example should be gauged appropriately, and when they are, you’ll soon gain a sense of how urgently your personal matters should go public. On the flipside of the coin, as Deborah Howard went on to stress, such communication is not guaranteed to solve all workplace problems or conflicts. Opening your Johari Window is purely your starting point, and an honest, seamless, prolific relationship with your boss is the goal. How you guide the process along boils down to your innate sense of good judgment, and your acknowledgement that there might be a problem in the first place.