Support ExJWs with Active Listening

With the growing community of ExJWs online, we need to support each other through some of the most challenging personal situations. One way that we can support each other is by being active listeners. Your job as a listener is to build rapport, understanding, and trust. As JWs, we were accustomed to telling others what to do and what to believe. As an ExJW your job is no longer about giving counsel or tell others what to do. As ExJWs we respect each other’s need to grow, develop, and differentiate themselves; even when their beliefs are different than our own. Active listening can be combined with validation techniques and unconditional positive regard to better support each other.

Psychologist John Grohol, PhD (2018) identified 13 steps to become an active listener. Additional research suggests these techniques used in active listening can be utilized online or in person (Bauer & Figl 2008). Let us take a look at these steps in the context of supporting ExJWs.

1. Restate. While you are listening repeat back what the sharer is saying. This doesn’t mean repeat back word-for-word what was said, but paraphrase instead. One example of this restating skill could be, “Let me see if I’m clear about this…”(Grohol 2018).

2. Summarize. Put everything you’ve heard together by summarizing what the sharer has told you. This makes a cohesive narrative and confirms you understood the story correctly. Try statements such such as, “So it sounds to me as if…” or “Is that it?” in your response (Grohol 2018).

3. Encourage. While listening (or reading) make comments to show that you are following the sharer’s story and encourage them to continue sharing. Dr. Grohol mentions phrases like, “Oh?” “I understand” “Then?” or “and?”. Use of encouragement shows you’re paying attention, that you care, and helps keep the conversation flowing (Grohol 2018).

4. Reflect. Similar to restating; but, using words that emphasize feelings of the sharer. Dr. Grohol’s example is, “This seems really important to you…” (Grohol 2018).

5. Give feedback. As a listener, your job is primarily to listen;, however, it is important to share relevant information, observations, insights, and experience. It is essential to be cautious when providing feedback. We want to be careful that we are not pushing our own beliefs on someone else. It is possible to give feedback while still respecting someone else’s beliefs. Listening carefully after you have provided feedback helps to confirm the sharer’s perspective (Grohol 2018).

6. Label emotions. The person sharing their story might have trouble putting their feelings into words. You can support them by labeling the emotions they are describing. Try saying, “I’m sensing that you’re feeling frustrated…” [fill in the emotion] (Grohol 2018). You can also use the phrase, “I’m guessing you’re feeling…” When labeling an emotion, refrain from telling the sharer what they are feeling. As JWs we may have been told what we were feeling, and we want to avoid doing that when supporting ExJWs.

7. Probing. Ask the sharer questions to show that you are listening and lead the conversation through meaningful topics. You might try, “What do you think would happen if you…?” (Grohol 2018).

8. Validation. Acknowledge what the sharer is saying by mentioning specific problems, issues, and feelings that they have discussed. A validating response would be: “I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a difficult issue…” (Grohol 2018) For more on validation please see my full post on Emotional Validation

9. Pause. When engaging with an individual in person or online, pause on key points. This helps emphasize the point you’re making and helps indicate that what you are saying is important.

10. Silence. Allowing silent moments to occur gives the sharer a moment to think and process what they are saying and feeling. Dr. Grohol suggests that a moment of silence can help diffuse unproductive interactions.

11. “I statements”. Classic “I statements” help you talk about the problem and not the person. Dr. Grohl’s example “I statement” is, “I know you have a lot to say but I need to…” “I statements” are highly effective but can be tricky to use. Please see my full post on using “I Statements.”

12. Redirecting. Occasionally we may listen to someone who is becoming increasingly agitated and angry. As ExJWs we may be particularly sensitive to certain topics. If you recognize that the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere productive it might be appropriate to redirect the conversation to a different topic (Grohol 2018).

13. Consequences. While listening, take note of what the sharer is saying and highlight the potential consequences. In providing specific feedback regarding the consequences of inaction, Dr. Grohol suggests, “What happened the last time you stopped taking the medicine your doctor prescribed?”


Bauer, C. & Figl, K. (2008). “Active listening” in written online communication – A case study in a course on “Soft Skills for Computer Scientists”. Proceedings – Frontiers in Education Conference. F2C-1 . 10.1109/FIE.2008.4720282.

Grohol, J. (2018, October 8) Become a Better Listener: Active Listening. PsychCentral. Retrieved from…/become-a-better-listener-active…/

Rev. 3.18.2019

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