They were about to start shouting at each other.

Lots of assumptions were being made.

It was the perfect time to introduce them to the ‘Testing Understanding’ approach that is part of Professor Neil Rackham’s work on Communicating Behaviours.

They told me, afterwards, that it was literally life-changing, as it opened a whole new world up in front of them.

They were about to start shouting at each other. Lots of assumptions were being made.

Don’t We Need Assumptions?

It’s fair to say that in order to go about our daily lives we need to constantly be making assumptions about things.

E.g. There’s a fair chance the sun will rise again tomorrow and therefore I will go to bed safe in that assumption.

That’s all well and good.

But then there are all those other assumptions we make when we are listening to. That’s where the assumptions may need to be checked out.

What Does ‘Doing Well’ Actually Mean?

For instance, what do you conclude when the boss says to you that they you are doing well?

Now depending on what kind of person you are, ‘well’ may mean:

  • About 8/10 … happy days!


  • What about the boss and what kind of person she is? It maybe that in her world ‘well’ means about 6/10, all of a sudden ‘well’ maybe doesn’t seem as satisfying as it may have a moment ago.


So a simple habit of TESTING UNDERSTANDING could mean that you ask:

“When you say I am doing well what does that meant to you, is that like a 6/10 or more like an 8/10?”

You never know, she might say, “Oh no, I mean more like a 9/10!”… yay!

Sorry, I can’t guarantee that last bit.

Whatever their response, though, this completely clears up any ambiguity and now we both know exactly what ‘well’ means and are on the same page.

In his research, Professor Neil Rackham found that when Testing Understanding and Summarizing are used less than 10% of the time in a meeting, more misunderstands occur, and confusion increases about what happened and what decisions were made.

Particularly Useful When Emotions Run High

This is such a useful habit, particularly when emotions start to run high.

When emotions run high, listening can decrease and it’s easy to get triggered.

This is exactly the time to simply slowing things down, get out of your own head and ask,

“Can I test my understanding of what you meant by <their statement>?”

Often times this leads to someone stating their point differently, bringing in new information or putting a different focus on things after which you often hear “Ohhh, now I understand’ or “Ahhhh ok, I get you.”

When emotions are running really high, the other person won’t have realized what they themselves said and will be hearing it properly for the first time only through you testing your understanding of it.

This is way more constructive than simply pouncing on someone’s (possibly misunderstood) statement and telling them exactly what you think about that and then what you think about them… all on a misunderstanding!

Ouch, that stuff can hurt and of course once you’ve said all that stuff you can’t simply just take it back! Makes sense to start out with the testing understanding in the first place, right?

The End of Drama Sitcoms?

The more and more I look around me and the high drama behaviour that can occur regularly – what if people simply tested their understanding? Could it be that this behaviour could possibly eradicate at least half of the drama, if not all of it?

Would drama Sitcoms even work if all the characters tested understanding as the norm?

What would it do for world peace if waring countries set out first to understand and second to be as understood, as Steven Covey advised?  Being the Idealist that I am, I can’t help but wonder.

So before I risk getting carried away…

How about you make this your behaviour of the week and see what previously unknowns unfold in front of you? I would love to hear from you and what you discover.