Counselor's Corner: Listen first with your heart

Fred Cavaiani

Have you experienced another person not get what you were trying to express? You may have been feeling something very emotionally powerful. Yet the person that was supposedly listening to your story only listened to you with a logical, intellectual mind. You experienced no feeling or empathy toward you. It is like having a cherished pet die and someone might tell you “Get another pet.” That person may have had good motives but they certainly didn’t have the correct empathy toward you in this grieving moment. They wanted to fix your grief, not be with you in your grief.

Some people go through life living primarily in their heads. Men and women like this are logical, clear, direct and often intellectually accurate. However, the logical thing to do is often not the emotionally correct thing to do. Good teachers know that their students must first feel loved and accepted before they will be receptive to the learning process.

Each of us have met persons in our lives who speak logically but often have not the faintest idea of what the appropriate emotional response might be to another person. People in authoritative positions can often state logical positions but can forget what is the best emotional response to a group of people. The head will always follow the heart to find a good balanced middle road on things. But when the head doesn’t listen to the heart, decisions can be made that are harmful, emotionally damaging and spiritually stifling. This happens so very often in politics, industry, business, and religion. Years ago when President Carter canceled the Olympics for Americans under the logical statement that this was a protest against other countries for not respecting human rights, many people were hurt. Athletes who had sincerely practiced for years were denied their chance to compete. People were emotionally hurt by this. It most likely contributed to his having only one term as President. He was a good man but in this decision he did not listen to his own heart and to the hearts of many other people and groups.

What does it mean to listen to your heart? It means to experience with full attention the feelings of other people. It means to make the effort to pay attention to how someone else feels and sees things. Listening to our own hearts means to embrace the pain and joy in our lives. It means that when we watch a movie and start crying we pay attention to those tears and not stifle them or apologize for them. It means if someone says something that is painful we allow ourselves to experience the depths of that pain. If someone says something that is joyful for us, we allow ourselves to experience that joy. To listen with the heart is to become fully connected with ourselves and with other people. Sometimes it means keeping our mouth shut because what we are thinking will only cause unnecessary pain if we speak out. Sometimes it means saying something very lovingly and compassionately to another person.

Listening with the heart means that I first need to connect with other people or with a group of people before my actions or words will mean anything positive. Once I have connected with someone else or with a group or organization in a caring manner, I will realize that I am dealing with human beings and not robots.

People who live in their heads sometimes perceive human beings as robots who will just do what you tell them to do because you have deemed it logical and important and you have so much evidence to back up what you have stated.

Most effective speakers who positively influence other people realize the importance of having a deep empathy with their audience. These are speakers who live in their hearts first. They do not have a speech, sermon or talk so planned and organized that it cannot be changed. A good speaker first connects empathically with the audience. Then she or he will know what needs to be said and will say it in an appropriate manner.

Most conflicts in marriage result because one person stays in their head and the other person is living in their heart. Until this conflict is resolved their will be no connection.

Religion, politics and business lose many members when those in authority stay in their heads. Yet these same religions, politics and businesses gain many members when those in authority live first in their hearts.

When logic forgets feelings, logic becomes a satellite spinning out of orbit. When logic first embraces feelings, it stays in orbit in an orderly, harmonious and empathic manner.


Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at (248)362-3340. His e-mail address is: and his website is