T&D/PI: Testing Understanding

Back in 1981 I Was One LUCKY Instructional Systems Designer

For I got to meet, hear from, work with, and learn from Neil Rackham and some of his associates at Huthwaite.

Before his SPIN Selling book came out.

Communications Behaviors

These were at the heart of SPIN and (then) Huthwaite’s sales, negotiations models, methods and training as I experienced them at Motorola in 1981 and 1982.

I won’t share their entire model – but I will share some of the key “communications behaviors” from their sales and negotiations models from way back in 1981/2.

I’ve written about these 4 (and a couple of others) previously, over the years (decades actually) as they were extremely impactful to my own communications style:

  • Giving Information
  • Seeking Information
  • Testing Understanding
  • Summarizing

Another piece of the puzzle I learned from either Neil or from John Carlisle – was “Signaling” my communications intent.


Signaling Intent

The purpose of signaling your intent – was to help the other side of the communications – be it an individual or a group – prepare for the volley – the back and forth – so to speak.

Especially if it’s a change in the Communicator’s behavior – say, switching from asking questions (Seeking Information) to telling something (Giving Information).

Yes, especially when switching.

It gave the other side a chance to mentally prepare for what was coming next. An “Advanced Organizer” if you will.

Giving Information

One could say… “Let me say this…” or “May I add…” or “Here’s some new data for our consideration…” etc., as signals.

Seeking Information

One could say… “Let me ask you this…” or “Can you tell me about…” or “I’d like to know more about…” etc.

Testing Understanding

One could say… “So let me test my understanding to see if I’ve got this straight…” or ” If I understand you correctly…” or ”


One could say… “So in summary, is it fair to say…” or ” In summary…” or “Let me try to summarize this” etc.

A Combo: Testing Understanding/Summarizing

While the “testing understanding/summarizing” is actually a combination of two behaviors, I have often combined them to simplify their use. However, they are different.

Testing understanding is making statements or asking questions for the purpose of testing what you think you’ve just heard or what you think you know. Most of us know this as a form of “active listening.”

The second part of this behavior is summarizing. Again, it’s best to provide your own clues and cues to your group. Say, “Let me try to summarize this,” and then do it. If your words stray from the original (but not too far), then it’s easier for the group to react.

But I started combining them when I found myself often “Testing Understanding” by “Summarizing” – before I went on with other “Tests” of “Understanding.

4 Past Posts

We All Need to Do More “Testing Understanding” and “Summarizing” in Our Dialogues With Each Other

T&D: Signaling Your Communications Intent

T&D: Ending an Attack-Defend Spiral

L&D/PI: Contentious Debate or Curious Dialogue?

Video – Neil Rackham’s 10 Design Criteria

57 minute video – from MTEC 1981 – my first week on the job at the Motorola Training & Education Center…

Lucky me.

Am I right?

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One comment on “T&D/PI: Testing Understanding

  1. Pingback: Facilitating Questioning, Criticism, and Dissent for Performance Improvement | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

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