Years ago, I heard a conference speaker share a story about the power of active listening. When he would check out at a retail store or coffee shop, he had a peculiar – yet fantastic – habit. If the cashier seemed disengaged, yet managed to mumble a “How are you today, sir?” he would smile broadly and reply, “Your face is on fire!”
The lady behind the register, of course, had conditioned herself not to hear, “Your face is on fire!”, but “Fine!” and so, as you can imagine, customer service hilarity would ensue.
“Your face is on fire!” (“That’s nice.”)
“Your face is on fire!” (“Uh huh.”)
“Your face is on fire!” (“Good. Paper or plastic?”)
I’m afraid that in the church world, we don’t do things much differently. Whether we’re dealing with a first time guest on Sunday morning, taking a phone call during the week, or counseling someone in need, we tend to do a poor job in the active listening department.
As we serve people – whether they’re a church member, a first time guest, a co-worker, neighbor, or friend – what do we tell them by the way we listen? Do we communicate care…or our incredible gift for getting to the point? Do we foster discussion…or hamper it by our obvious rush to get on to the next thing?
We may not be great listeners, but the people around us are good observers. Don’t let ’em catch us with our faces on fire.
(An earlier version of this post was published in November 2008.)