A Guitar Lesson

Look at the image above.  What do you see?

I see a musical instrument.

My son is a lifelong guitarist.  Here’s what he sees:

  • Acoustic guitar
  • Mahogany body
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Steel strings
  • Dot inlays.

The image evokes very different feelings in us.  I really enjoy acoustic guitar music. All I feel is a vague sense of pleasure when I see this picture.  Here’s what he feels:

How does it sound? How does it play? Is it mechanically sound?  Will it tune up easily and consistently? Does it have high quality hardware? Does it have a bolt-on or a glue-in neck joint? Is it a one piece top and back or multiple? Does it look like it was manufactured mostly by machine or by hand? Where was it made – in the US or overseas?  What is the quality of the inlay work? Is the rosette a printed image around the sound hole or was it done in some other way? What is the material used for the dot inlays? Was it mother of pearl, abalone, or plastic?

We’re both looking at the same picture, but we see and feel something entirely different.

The guitar lesson

We look at situations through a lens of our own biases and experience.  We aren’t starting from the same perspective.  That’s why we perceive the same image or situation differently.

It’s called naïve realism.  Understanding it is critical to how to effectively communicate with others.

Here are additional examples, pulled from today’s polarized reality. 

What do you think of when you hear these phrases?

Keep America Great.

Black Lives Matter.

Depending on your political affiliation, your background and your personal experiences, there’s going to be a huge disparity in responses.

When you understand the ramifications of naïve realism, the first lesson you learn is that it’s highly unlikely using logic will change the mind of people who see things different from you.

The reason is simple:  You aren’t seeing the same thing.  Your perception may be totally different depending on factors unique to you.

There’s another, compelling reason why attempting to change the mind of others is often fruitless. 

Do you ever wonder why Apple users are so loyal to that brand?  Many would argue newer Android devices are less expensive and have superior features, yet Apple users refuse to make the switch.


Because of the “rule of consistency”, which holds that once you make up your mind about something, it’s very difficult to change it.

The combination of naïve realism and the rule of consistency is a formidable barrier to persuading others you are “right” and they are “wrong.”

A better way

If you want to deepen your relationship with those who hold different views, stop trying to persuade them.  Instead, ask them questions geared to help you understand their point of view better.  Then ask follow-up questions showing you heard them and demonstrating an interest in learning more about the basis for their opinion.

You won’t change their mind, but you will be perceived by them very differently.  They’ll consider you a person who is empathetic and caring.  One who is genuinely interested in them and who takes the time to explore their feelings.

My son and I will still see and feel images of musical instruments differently.  We view it as an opportunity to learn from each other and deepen our relationship.