How we see ourselves and how others see us can be in complete opposition. Many philosophers have debated who can know our self better - we from the inside, or others from the outside. As with everything, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
The Johari Window, developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, has been around since the 1950's as "a graphic model for interpersonal relations".
How can it be useful to you?
It provides an overview of what you see, know, or believe to be true about yourself, and what others see, know, or believe to be true about you - including blind spots. In other words, it's an excellent gap analysis between what is and what you want to be.
The first quadrant is Public Knowledge - both you and others have access to that information. It'll still take some communication skills to ensure both have the same understanding or interpretation of what is known.
You can obtain input for the second quadrant by asking friends, colleagues, family, and strangers for feedback. Why strangers? Because they gain nothing by sugarcoating their perception. Remember, feedback is often autobiographical, so we have to consider the source and their personal experiences when we receive it, and try to filter out our own biases and projections when we offer it.
Things you know but don't share with others populate the third quadrant. Some items may stay in there forever, some may be shared via services like postsecret.com and still remain somewhat anonymous. If you decide to share what was once private, of course that knowledge wanders into the first quadrant of public knowledge. Yes, there is movement between the items.
The fourth quadrant holds the space for all those things that may be pre-conscious, i.e. in the portions of your unconscious mind that can be probed, examined, and reflected. In coaching and counseling clients often describe "a-ha!" moments where something that was never quite clear, but lurking under the surface, suddenly pops into awareness. That piece of information then moves into the third quadrant, and possibly even the first if it's shared.
The quadrants are dynamic, and they have different sizes for different personality types and people from different cultures. For example, people with preferences for extraverted Feeling tend to be comfortable sharing their own personal experiences - to establish rapport with another person, or simply to share. Someone with preferences for introversion or introverted Thinking, for example, may play their cards much closer to their chest. Some people simply are inherently more private and will know a lot more about themselves than what they'll freely share with the outside world.
By the same token, there may also be cultural differences in how open we are. People from the USA tend to be more versed in small talk than people from Germany. Personal information is more easily shared State-side than it is in Germany, so the "public arena" may appear to be larger by comparison.
Asking for Feedback
To get you started, pick out five to ten adjectives to describe you, e.g. from list below (positive/desirable or negative/undesirable ones, or an even mixture, see Wikipedia example below). Then share that list with your network to see which adjectives they pick for you.
Discrepancies will indicate where to shine your light, seek more feedback, discuss, or simply feel if it rings true. Then it is up to you to decide whether the feedback is something you'll consider as an opportunity for growth and learning, or whether you'd rather dismiss it.
To boost motivation and self-esteem in your team, consider asking colleagues to use any of the positive descriptors to describe other team members - anonymously. E.g. write the person's name on an index card, add the descriptors, and then collect all cards that describe Lisa or Tom and read them out. For a more low-key debrief, simply hand the cards to the corresponding person, and they can read them whenever they're having a bad day.
Image by Paolo S., Flickr, Creative Commons License.