Communicating with All of You

You may have noticed that I weirdly capitalized “All of You” in the header. “All of You” doesn’t indicate that I think you are a group – or you have multiple personalities.

The big “All,” indicates that I want you to give attention to personal things you normally wouldn’t entertain your neighbor with at a dinner party or put in your LinkedIn profile; perhaps inside there is a 3-year-old “You“ or a 13-year-old “You” with some old stories.

Don’t stay there now; just remember that regardless of what you may initially believe, some of these stashed away secrets may be your true treasures.

The Johari Window

Let us look at a model that has been around for a long time; The Johari Window. It was conceived in 1955; you may even know it or have been exposed to it.

According to the model, what is “You,” can all be drawn as a big box.

You know a lot about you: When you were born, your favorite flavor ice cream, your shoe size, whom you had a crush on in 7th grade…

But there are also facts that you don’t know about you. You may not be aware that when you are stressed, you click your pen driving your coworkers nuts. Or that you very often apologize before you speak. Or use a word in the wrong way. Or that you are the person everybody in the organization trusts. Or…

We can thus divide “You,” into what you know about “You,” and what you don’t know about “You.”

Even if I had known you for 20 years, I probably wouldn’t know whom you had a crush on in 7th grade, so “You,” cannot only be divided into what you know or don’t know – “You” can also be divided into what others know and don’t know about you.

Look at the graphic; let the whole box be “All of You”.  Let’s first start talking about the things you know, the left half of the window.

The things you know about “You,” are divided into what you are Open about (the top left) and what you – unknowingly or knowingly for whatever reasons – Hide (the bottom left).

The Open part is obviously not very controversial; at least not to you. So let’s move on.

There can be perfectly good reasons to keep some things Hidden. Disclosing your age in the workplace may not be wise if ageism is rampant where you work. In my country of birth, Denmark, one’s birthdate is a part of the local equivalent of the Social Security Number. It is commonly included in resumes, and birthdays may be celebrated both in and by the company one works for.

Some things may be hidden just because there hasn’t been a good reason to disclose them, not because you specifically want them to be secret. Usually, we don’t disclose our birthdays as the first thing we tell strangers, not even in societies where birthdays are public knowledge. Most things are left unsaid if they are not relevant to the context.

When people don’t know much about you, they start making their own little stories about who you are based on their prior experiences with people who either look like you, talk like you, share your job, are your age… not from an explicit wish to pigeonhole you but because they have little else to go by. People are hardwired for categorizing and they generally don’t like uncertainty.  These little stories are what we call stereotypes.

Story-writing happens even when all parties involved act in good faith. If the people you are communicating with have strong preconceived notions around people who look like you, talk like you, share your job, are your age… it gets way more complicated.  Let’s save that conversation for another day.

Next are the things you don’t know, the right half of the window.

Some of them are common knowledge among your family, friends, and/or coworkers. These are your Blind Spots (the top right).

You can learn more about them by asking for feedback.

As an immigrant to the US, I often ask for feedback on my use of the English language. Perish the thought, that I unknowingly walked around insulting people by using an expression in a wrong way.

Sometimes “feedback” comes as part of a normal conversation.

After MC’ing at a party where everybody – including the waiters – were laughing their heads off, one of the guests that I had known for a decade said, “I have never seen you like that before.” I took away some indirect feedback that I had set a goofy side of myself in the corner.  I noticed that I kind of missed that part of me and I have since worked at getting it back while pondering why it slipped in the first place.  It is still a work in progress.

Often we get the feedback without asking, when we are not ready for it, or it is delivered in an unproductive way so we can’t accept it.  Once we are defensive, it is difficult to benefit from any feedback – as well-intended as it may be.

I was initially defensive when I learned that I was being too direct with people I didn’t know well. Ouch, I was unknowingly pushing people away. When I later reflected, it made sense: as a Dane, I am not only a learner of the language; I also carry a different tradition for small talk – it is really more of a “non-tradition”. Understanding the “why,” behind not only my own behavior but also why it didn’t sit well with other people made the feedback welcome – in hindsight.  Now becoming better at small talk is one of my learning goals. Still a work in progress.

A lot of feedback is not even verbal; it is in the raised eyebrows, crossed arms, non-replies, or exuberant greetings. Most of us are experts in body language (at least when we communicate within our own culture.) Zoom is making this language a new art form that we have to learn together.

Finally, there is the Unknown area (the bottom right); things about you that neither you nor other people are fully aware of. Some of these things are what psychoanalysis was made for. One of the fathers in the field, C.F. Jung, talked about the shadow, the parts of us that we deny.  Sigmund Freud talked about things pressed into the subconscious by the Id – the “I in charge” – because we didn’t/don’t know how to handle these “things”.

Regardless whether they are Blind or Unknown: the parts of us that we don’t take ownership to have a tendency to creep up upon us and kick us in the pants at inconvenient times.


Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

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  1. Excellent article, Charlotte, and I totally relate to the ‘letting go’ of inhibitions in allowing yourself to come out, silly or serious as deemed appropriate and/or fun in the moment. You don’t have to be a Dane to have challenges in communication. I like to be direct, even as an American, and yet it is often perceived as blunt or curt. It isn’t my intention to be so, and yet perception is reality to others. So I had to adjust. Going through traumatic periods also requires adjustment and, although boxes are nice, I’ve never seemed to fit in a box. Actually, when you’re outside, the labels are easier to read. 😉

    Speaking of traumatic periods, and many of us go through divorce and disruption of professional lives as a result, I prayed for a way to convert my trauma into triumph and got a surprising answer as I drove down Indian School Rd in Phoenix a few days later. I’ll share the result and, although it’s a bit misleading, the emcee had a little fun with me. This is from 1991… It certainly got me over the hump at the time… and I had fun at my expense, too.

    What I found over time is there really are no secrets, no unknown factors, it’s just that we aren’t asking the right questions for maintaining our growth in self-awareness. It’s been said the Universe has no secrets. It wants us to explore so it can reveal what we thought was unknown. Sometimes we’re blinded by the light, or by science. Our inner truth looking place always gives us straight answers. We have to realize it’s there, first, and then suffer the honesty of self in revealing where our spots are… assuaging the fear, guilt and shame game’s influence… and grow in the faith, love and trust we’re designed with inside. It’s a different type of insider trading.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Zen. I loved your comment “when you’re outside, the labels are easier to read.” You may enjoy one of the other articles I posted on Bizcatalyst360 about being a fish out of water; only from the outside can you really see the water.

      Is that you in the video? It described beautifully the phases of change, down to giving the shirt away :-). How did people take it? Sometimes it takes just the one person who gets is to make it worth while doing. In between a whole lot of time spent in the desert.

  2. Wonderful article Charlotte. This line in particular grabbed my attention: “When people don’t know much about you, they start making their own little stories about who you are based on their prior experiences with people who either look like you, talk like you, share your job, are your age… not from an explicit wish to pigeonhole you but because they have little else to go by.” This is very accurate. When people don’t really know you, they will fill in the blanks with their own chemistry. They will make judgments in character, personality and otherwise based on their own life experience and knowledge. Sometimes the picture is accurate, other times they are completely wrong. Guess it just depends on how much we reveal, how much we tip our hand in the process of exchange.

    It would be fascinating if we could crawl out of our own skins for a day… to see what others see… to understand how others perceive and think about us. I wonder if this would change our behavior or affect the way we interact with others. I believe such an experience would be revealing, if not very awkward. In general, I think it is smart and wise to hold some things back. Quite often those who are an open book are the same who are most taken advantage of. This is where our ego is calculating and protective. Our instincts are set to preserve us simply through the game of cards we play in life… The more we tip our hand, the more we give away, the more others are willing to take… It’s nice to be outgoing and open, but not to the point where we risk our identity or independence. Anyway, thank you for sharing this insightful article – it really made me think. Stay blessed and enjoy the rest of your week ahead.

    • I belatedly come to your comment here, Aaron, and apologize for my tardiness.

      Your comment on crawling out of your skin reminded me that 40 years ago, I saw a version of Johari’s Window used in a class setting where you and the other participants rated you on a number of traits. If there was a big overlap between what you thought and what others picked up on, you were deemed effective and if not, too bad. Whether a score of people you had only spent a couple of days with in a class room would be the best judges can be discussed, but it spoke to your opening statement regarding what people do if they have little else to go by: They fill in the blanks.

  3. Hi Charlotte,
    I really appreciate your article and weaving in the psychology of who we are as reconciled with sometimes unknowingly putting forth something opposite to who we really are. Perception of who we are by different people, is in deed complicated and something we cannot control. We cannot nor should not change to please others or try to change their “opinion” of who we are. Concern for others opinion of me has finally been eliminated from my list of “must does”.

    What does concern me is those that “label” you with the latest “cliche-ish words of the month” and their “circle” tends to agree with them regardless. And it’s done in a very subtle and manipulative way…as to demean you with a smile on their face and a “lovey-dovey” exterior, rather than actually taking the time to really getting to know you, underneath the surface of what they perceive and think they know. This is not only hurtful but can be destructive to those that do not know better and take it to heart. These are some issues on behalf of “humanity” (another buzz-word of the month) which need to be addressed. If not addressed, we will start to see an increase in sincere, good people withdrawing from being and becoming more of who they really are for fear of being judged by those that see themselves as perfect and above, believing their way to peace, happiness, success, enlightenment being the only way.

    Unfortunately I’m seeing this trend more and more, especially with regard to jealousy of perceived threats to one’s profession and fear of losing their expertise on a particular matter, thus their loss of value and influence within their circle diminished. That’s just me…Love me or hate me. Thanks again.

    • This is such a rich comment, Char, that I am not quite sure what to do with or why I should decide to love or hate you for it.

      You beautifully articulate he difference between “fitting in” and belonging. The question for me is how we can make ourselves roomy enough to hold each other in our authentic versions so nobody feels the need to fold over backwards to be accepted.
      If being ourseves means we can’t be accepted by everybody, so be it.

      You are tossing out a quite strong rebuke to a broad set of professions/people in the “peace, happiness, success, enlightenment” space which, I believe, covers most of the contributors here on BC360. I am curious what is behind it and why it landed as a comment on my post? Am I to take it personally?

    • I agree, Frank. It is very difficult to get back in somebody’s good book if they feel betrayed. We should always be open to questioning intent, though. It is so easy to assume that somebody did something bad from bad intent when we don’t know the full story.

  4. Hi, Charlotte, and thanks.
    I discovered my core values through an assessment ( and those are Love, Candor, and Chaos. My candor sometimes rubs people a bit, and I’ve made the decision that I’d rather cause friction through candor than through even slight gaslighting.
    I’ve been working in my wonderful career since I got fired in 1994 (and there’s a good story), focused on leadership, learning and language. I’ve found that people will leap at the chance to be open and candid once they realize they are operating in a context of safety (as in Maslow’s hierarchy).
    Please drop in and give a listen to the back2different podcast ( to hear some interesting conversation about pushing forward during Covid rather than pushing back.
    Take care,