“Can you hear me now?” A window into effective communication and mutual understand

written by Mary T. McKinley, MA, LPC

Ever heard the saying “no man is an island entire of itself?” The phrase originates from the 16th century English poet, John Donne. It is typically used to emphasize our need for relationships and social interactions in order to thrive. Human beings, by nature, are hardwired for community, and the self exists often in the context of the other. Experts indicate that the average human spends approximately three-quarters of their day communicating with others. Not surprisingly, social isolation, rejection, and interpersonal conflicts are at the root of many mental health concerns. Effective communication can therefore be considered an essential coping skill or resource. Communication is a medium of exchange of information and view from one person to another. The communication process is a complex multilayered one, but the closer the message received gets to the intent of the sender, the more effective the communication process is said to be. Feedback, the communication of what was received back to the sender, is also an integral part ensuring the effectiveness of the communication process. A useful tool for improving self-awareness and fostering mutual understanding is the Johari Window.


Developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, the Johari Window is a model of interpersonal communication processes made up of four quadrants (also known as perspectives, panes, or areas). The Open Area, also known as the Arena, consists of aspects of one’s behaviors, attitudes, motivation, and values, that are within conscious awareness, known to self and to others. As a result, there is free and open communication in the arena, increasing in size through self-disclosure, as the level of trust also increases. The Hidden Area, also known as the Façade, consists of aspects of the self, private things that we choose not to share. These are information that others are not privy to unless the individual chooses to disclose. The Blind area holds aspects of the self, things that the individual does not know about themselves that is clear and visible to others. The Unknown is the last area that represents aspects of the individual that is unknown both to self and others. These include early memories, latent potentials, personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses. The goal is to enlarge the Open Area and shrink the Hidden Area by building trust and deepening relationships through self-disclosure. The bigger the Open Area, the more effective the communication. Further, the Blind Area shrinks when one cultivates the habit of effectively soliciting and giving feedback, while the Unknown Area is addressed through introspection and self-reflection.




Ultimately, the Johari Window exercise (see here) provides a practical way of improving communication through authentic engagement, self-disclosure, and constructive feedback. It is worth mentioning that the effectiveness of the communication process is also dependent on an individual’s interpersonal and communication style. The four basic communication styles are assertive, passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive. While some communication styles are bound to yield better results in different contexts, empathic listening and dialogue with self-awareness and mutual understanding is key to effective communication.  Watch the video below for more and if you'd like, join the Mind Matters discussion about Adaptive Communication this Thursday, July 2nd at noon (see here).