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Listening

The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas
This skill is all about being able to effectively receive information - whether it comes from customers, colleagues or stakeholders.

Initially, the skill steps concentrate on being able to listen effectively to others - including remembering short instructions, understanding why others are communication and recording important information.

Individuals then focus on how they demonstrate that they are listening effectively, thinking about body language, open questioning and summarising and rephrasing.

Beyond that, the focus is on being aware of how they might be being influenced by a speaker, through tone and language.

The final steps are about critical listening - comparing perspectives, identifying biases, evaluating ideas and being objective.

Speaking

The oral transmission of information or ideas
This skill is all about how to communicate effectively with others, being mindful of whether they are talking to customers, colleagues or other stakeholders and in different settings.

Initially, this skill focuses on being able to speak clearly - first with well known individuals and small groups and then with those who are not known.

The next stage is about being an effective speaker by making points logically, by thinking about what listeners already know and using appropriate language, tone and gesture.

Beyond that, individuals focus on speaking engagingly through use of facts and examples, visual aids, and their expression and gesture.

Beyond that stage, speakers will be adaptive to the response of their listeners and ready for different scenarios. The final steps focus on speaking influentially - using structure, examples, facts and vision to persuade listeners.

Problem Solving

The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge
This skill focuses on how to solve problems, recognising that while part of Problem Solving is technical know-how and experience, there are also transferable tools that individuals can develop and use.

The first steps focus on being able to follow instructions to complete tasks, seeking help and extra information if needed. The next stage focuses on being able to explore problems by creating and assessing different potential solutions. This includes more complex problems, without a simple technical solution.

Beyond this, the focus is on exploring complex solutions - thinking about causes and effects, generating options, and evaluating those options. This extends into analysis using logical reasoning and hypotheses.

Finally, individuals implement strategic plans to solve complex problems, assess their success, and draw out learning for the future.

Creativity

The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas
Creativity is the complement to Problem Solving, and is about generating innovations or ideas which can then be honed through the problem-solving process.

The first few steps focus on the individual's confidence in imagining different situations and sharing their ideas.

The focus is then on generating ideas - using a clear brief, making improvements to something that already exists and combining concepts.

Individuals then apply creativity in the context of their work and their wider life. They can build off this to develop ideas using tools like mind mapping, questioning, and considering different perspectives.

The most advanced steps focus on building effective innovation in group settings and by seeking out varied experiences and stimuli. Finally, individuals support others to innovate, by sharing tools, identifying the right tools for the situation and through coaching.

Staying Positive

The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals
This skill is all about individuals being equipped to manage their emotions effectively and being able to remain motivated, and ultimately to motivate others, even when facing setbacks.

The early steps focus on identifying emotions - particularly feeling positive or negative. Building off that is the ability to keep trying - and then staying calm, thinking about what went wrong, and trying to cheer up and encourage others.

The focus then turns to identifying new opportunities in difficult situations, sharing those, and adapting or creating plans accordingly. At more advanced steps, individuals identify and manage risks and gains in opportunities.

Finally, individuals support others to stay positive by managing their own response, helping others to see opportunities and creating plans to achieve them.

Aiming High

The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them
This skill is about being able to plan effectively - both to achieve organisational goals, and also to set their own personal development targets. Initially, this is about knowing when something is too difficult, and having a sense of what doing well looks like for an individual.

The focus is then about working with care and attention, taking pride in success and having a positive approach to new challenges. Building on this, individuals set goals for themselves, informed by an understanding of what is needed, and then be able to order and prioritise tasks, secure resources and involve others effectively.

At the higher steps, the focus is creating plans informed by an individual's skill set, with clear targets, and building on external views. At the most advanced level, individuals develop long-term strategies. These are informed by an assessment of internal and external factors, structured through regular milestones and feedback loops.

Leadership

Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal
This skill is relevant not only for individuals in positions of management with formal power, but also for individuals working with peers in teams.

At the earliest stages, the focus is on basic empathy - understanding their own feelings, being able to share them, and recognising the feelings of others. The focus is on managing - dividing up tasks, managing time and sharing resources, managing group discussions and dealing with disagreements.

Beyond that, individuals build their awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, and those of their teams. This allows them to allocate tasks effectively. They then build techniques to mentor, coach and motivate others. At the highest steps, individuals will be able to reflect on their own leadership style and understand its effect on others.

Ultimately, they should be able to build on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, and adapt their leadership style to the situation.

Teamwork

Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal
This skill applies to working within both formal and informal teams, and also with customers, clients or other stakeholders. Initially, this is about individuals fulfilling expectations around being positive, behaving appropriately, being timely and reliable and taking responsibility. This extends to understanding and respecting diversity of others' cultures, beliefs and backgrounds.

The next steps focus on making a contribution to a team through group decision making recognising the value of others' ideas and encourage others to contribute too.Beyond that, individuals improve their teams through managing conflict and building relationships beyond the immediate team. At the top steps, individuals focus on how they influence their team through suggesting improvements and learning lessons from setbacks.

Ultimately, individuals support the team by evaluating others strengths and weaknesses and bringing in external expertise and relationships.

To achieve Step 12, individuals will show that they actively seek external views in developing their plans, including constructive criticism. 

In the previous steps, the focus has been on building plans based on an understanding of the goals, resources and skills available. This step develops this further by also looking at how to engage with external views and seek constructive criticism to improve these plans.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is the value of external views 
  • What is constructive criticism
  • How to ask for constructive criticism 
  • When are external views most valuable

Reflection questions

  • Why is it important to include external views as we develop our plans?
  • What is constructive criticism, and how can it be helpful?
  • How can we ask for constructive criticism?
  • At what point should we ask for external views?
  • Have you had any experience of doing this, and what was the result?

What you need to know

The value of external views

The best plans are informed by a wide range of external views. This is a common theme between many of the other skills, including Listening, Speaking and Creativity. 

Engaging with a range of external views can help us to:

  • Learn new information
  • See a new perspective on a problem
  • Challenge our preconceptions, or misconceptions 
  • Force us to articulate our ideas 
  • Generate new ideas 
  • Solve problems together

For this reason, all organisations that create effective plans consult widely with team members, clients, customers, and other stakeholders to ensure that their plans are informed and challenged as widely as possible.

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Constructive criticism

Constructive criticism is one part of gathering external views. It is about asking others to identify what might be wrong in your existing plans and to suggest ways of making improvements or addressing some of those shortcomings.

It is quite different to criticism because it is focused on making improvements more than just telling you what is wrong. Constructive criticism is normally defined by:

  • A positive, helpful tone
  • Identification of what is working well, as well as what can be improved
  • Considered, reasoned opinions
  • Explanation of points
  • A willingness to discuss the critique more widely
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In different settings

In some cases, you will have an open, trusting relationship with someone where giving and receiving constructive criticism is a normal part of how you work together. This is invaluable for your development and that of your plans.

However, in other cases, you will need to be proactive in encouraging others to feel they can share what they really think. You should not believe that generally encouraging comments are necessarily a true reflection of what the other person is thinking – they might just be being polite.

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Asking for constructive criticism

To encourage others to give constructive criticism, you need to first be explicit about the fact that you welcome it. For example:

  • “This thinking is at an early stage, and I would really value your input to make it better.”
  • “This plan is just a starting point, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

You can then ask questions to encourage others to give constructive criticism:

  • What do you like about the plan at the moment?
  • What do you have concerns about?
  • What do you think I should also think about?
  • Do you think there are any mistaken assumptions I’ve made? 

This questioning will help the other individual to feel like they have permission to be honest and open with you in their feedback – and this sort of feedback will definitely be the most helpful.

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When are external views most valuable?

External views can play an essential role at all different stages of putting together and implementing a plan. That includes when goals are being devised, analysis carried out, and action plans being written.

The crucial thing is to get external input early so that it can be built into your thinking rather than needing to change plans later on – or receiving feedback when it is too late to do anything with it. 

If you can engage people early, then they can become your most engaged partners, because they will share a sense of ownership with you about the plan and the outcomes. That also means that they are much more likely to support you along the way to realise those plans.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should start by asking learners to think about what they might get out of engaging with external views when they are developing their plans.  This should give some of the ideas that were shared earlier, and potentially others too.
  • Learners can be asked to define constructive criticism, and what makes it different to just criticism. The teacher can lead a discussion of why this sort of feedback can be helpful, but also why it is not always easy to come by.
  • The teacher can introduce some of the approaches for asking for constructive criticism from others, modelling how they might ask. Learners can practice this in pairs, with an emphasis on giving permission for the other person to provide feedback. 
  • Finally, learners can reflect on the stages in the planning process when external feedback can be valuable, and how they might go about gaining it.

Reinforcing it

This step can be encouraged across learning, as it is a good habit for learners to seek out constructive criticism across many aspects of their work and personal development. This could be extended to reviewing one another’s work as peers and being able to give helpful, constructive feedback to one another. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed by observing whether learners can give and receive constructive criticism and actively seek external views when developing their ideas and plans.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work:

This step is relevant to individuals who can help the team to succeed by making plans to achieve goals. 

To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Discuss with the individual what they might get out of engaging with external views when they are developing their plans. 
  • Explain to an individual what makes constructive criticism different to just criticism. The manager can lead a discussion of why this sort of feedback can be helpful, but also why it is not always easy to come by.
  • Show how to use constructive criticism to shape a plan, to provide an individual with a template they can follow. To achieve this, a manager could present two models of how feedback can be used to inform a plan: one where constructive criticism is sought out right at the start of a project and a second where constructive criticism is collected late in the process. By comparing the models, a manager can help the individual understand how best to use constructive criticism to shape a plan.  
  • Task the individual on an exercise which is about them asking for constructive criticism on a current piece of work. 
  • Reflect with the individual about the stages in the planning process when external feedback can be valuable, and how they might go about gaining it.

Practising it:

There are plenty of opportunities for building this skill in the workplace:

  • Working with colleagues: During key stages of a planning process, such as when goals are being developed, with a focus on using external perspectives to inform the plan’s design and constructive criticism to improve it. 
  • Working with customers or clients: Whenever we receive feedback from customers or clients which might help inform our plans for the future. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through discussion and subsequent observation. For instance:

  • A manager could stage a reflective conversation with an individual, to share some constructive criticism on a project the individual is involved in. A manager might extend this conversation, asking questions to understand what an individual plans to do with this external view. Evidence of this skill step can be found in the individual using this external view and others they might collect, to inform the steps they take next.
  • The manager can also observe the extent to which the individual seeks out external views and constructive criticism in their day-to-day work. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed for by:

  • Questioning an individual during an interview. The interviewer might pose questions to check if an individual has previously sought constructive criticism and used it to inform their plans.
  • Providing some constructive criticism on the spot, and see how the individual reacts to it – whether they welcome it, or become defensive.

Build this step

Advice for

Organisations

We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.

We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:

  • Tools for self-reflection
  • Materials to support you to teach the skills, if appropriate in your setting
  • Reward systems like printable certificates

We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.

More resources

Advice for

Individuals

As an individual, you might be thinking about how best to support your own essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Looking at the Universal Framework to spot skill steps that you think you need to work on. It is normally best to start from the lowest step that you don’t feel confident on, and go from there.
  • Keeping a record of the skill steps that you want to work on, and writing down when you practice them, and when you feel you are making progress.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what you are trying to do – whether a teacher, family member, manager or a peer. They can help give you feedback on how you are doing, and celebrate your progress with you.

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help you to build these skills, including:

  • Short activities that you can use to build the essential skills
  • Regular challenges to put those skills into action
  • Ways to record and capture your essential skills, so you can see progress and talk to other people about how you are getting on

Build this step

Advice for

Parents & Carers

As a parent or carer, you might be thinking about how best to support your children to build their essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own life
  • Trying to show how to use the skill steps, and explaining why you are doing what you are doing
  • Praising your children when they show they are using the skills well, and help them to see that as a worthwhile achievement

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help parents to build these skills, including:

  • Skill stories for the youngest children (aged 3+)
  • Short activities that you can complete together
  • Regular challenges that you can complete at home to build the essential skills
  • Reward systems like printable certificates and badges

There is also content for older children and young people, including short activities and reflections that they can complete alone, or with you.

Build this step