It Is About You

Getting and giving feedback is an essential part of finding what can go right on a project.  It requires openness, self-confidence, and humility.  When giving feedback, it has to be about helping others, not about you.  When receiving feedback, it is about you.  You have to let it be about you.  Accept it, understand it, and use it.  It reveals how your project is going, how you are contributing, and what can go better.

But giving and getting feedback isn’t easy.  Done poorly, it can make things worse.  People have to be open to it before it’s given.  You have to be open to it if it is going to make a difference to you.

I posted Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak blog post just before this one from me.  Dan has a way of bringing out my ideas.  He submits that achieving excellence in leadership depends on our ability to successfully give and receive feedback.  He offers some good suggestions on how to trade feedback without having one party to it feel subservient to the other.  It’s a good point.  How do you set the right attitude when sitting down with a person or team to trade feedback?  35 years ago, in a big lecture hall at Maxwell AFB with about 800 other young Air Force officers at Squadron Officers School, I learned about Johari’s Window, and have used it to encourage feedback ever since.

Johari’s Window was created in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham as part of an exercise that helps people in a group understand how they see themselves vs. how others see them.  It looks like this:

Thanks to Don Clark at for this picture.

When it was presented to us at Squadron Officer’s School, it wasn’t used in its original form, but to bring out the idea that a good leader needs to be open to and encourage feedback.  I found it compelling.  We all have blind spots that others can see that we can’t see.  We have to accept this and we are better off if those spots become less blind by talking about them.  We need feedback. There are certain things we know about ourselves that we don’t want to reveal to others.  This is our façade.  We have to be careful with facades. If the façade is too thick, we risk not being seen as authentic or trustworthy.  Our thick façade may lead to the same in others and limit communication and learning.

In the Johari Window, we recognize that feedback allows us to move characteristics about ourselves from our blind spot into the arena.  It also allows us to share characteristics from our façade without it being seen as whining or weakness.  You’ve heard that great leaders are willing to be vulnerable – to admit that they don’t have an answer or to be willing to accept that they make mistakes.  That’s what’s happening in the Johari Window.  Everyone participating is becoming a better leader by sharing and accepting feedback for the good of the team.

Getting as much as possible into the arena was the idea presented to us at SOS.  Initially, that comes from revealing blind spots.  Then, in a team setting, open discussion can lead to sharing what is in the façade with trusted others.  A final outcome is my own observation.

In my experience, sharing feedback in the context of Johari’s Window can lead to visits from the “unknown” quadrant.  This quadrant is often described as “mysterious” in many references to Johari’s Window.  My thought is that it is the source of creative opportunities that can come from a team that is willing to share feedback in the most constructive and helpful way.  This atmosphere of openness allows new insights from the unknown quadrant to reveal themselves in someone’s mind.  In the right environment, that person feels safe to share a new thought that can become a great opportunity.

So, this leads us to the other side of risk.  As project managers, finding what can go right on a project depends on our ability to connect with our team to bring out their ideas and needs.  We want them to give us feedback, and we want the team to accept feedback from us and other stakeholders.  We can’t bring out opportunities, ways to make the journey more satisfying, potentially more perfect outcomes, or find how to balance problems with opportunities if we can’t get or give feedback.

I’ve found that sharing the concept of Johari’s Window can make people feel more comfortable in sharing what’s on their mind; and be more open to hearing what others have to think.  I’ve used it to preface performance discussions, risk identification, consulting feedback, and lessons learned sessions.  It’s a simple idea, it sounds mysterious and interesting, it’s quick and easy to draw, and everyone can identify with having blind spots and facades.  Getting past those creates opportunities for us to grow.

So, this time, it is about you.  It’s about your ability to accept feedback and create an atmosphere where you can share yours with others.  Give it a try.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012

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