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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 9, individuals will demonstrate that they can develop ideas by asking themselves questions.

In the previous step, the focus was on developing ideas through mind mapping. This step continues to think about how to develop ideas, this time through the use of effective questioning.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • The role of questioning in developing ideas 
  • What sort of questions to ask

Reflection questions

  • Why is questioning a vital part of developing ideas?
  • Why do we need to redraft and revise our ideas? 
  • What sort of questions are likely to help to improve your ideas?
  • What do you need to know to ask good questions?

What you need to know

The role of questioning

No idea is ever created fully formed and ready to go. All ideas evolve and are developed, refined and improved. This process of improvement is often called re-drafting. 

Even the greatest masterpieces weren’t created in one go – they were planned, refined and improved. For instance, many of the paintings that we think of as masterpieces have signs of earlier versions underneath the paint we see today. Similarly, many sculptures are preceded by smaller experimental models. 

Almost all engineering designs are changed and substantially improved before they make it to being built. Famously, after his idea of a lightbulb, it took Thomas Edison hundreds of revisions and attempts to make the idea come to reality.

One of the best ways of helping ourselves to go through the process of improving our ideas is through asking good questions. These questions help us to pre-empt the response that others will have to our ideas and will help us to consider whether there are other ways of reaching our goals too.

A big difference between those who have mastered creativity and those who are at an earlier stage is the willingness to ask challenging questions and be open to changing the idea to make it better.

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Closed and open questions

There are two broad types of questions, as you might be familiar with from Listening (See Listening Step 7):

  • Closed questions are those which can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. For example, ‘Is that…’ or ‘Did…’ They are useful for confirming or denying facts.
  • Open questions are those that cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. For example, they tend to start with words like ‘who’, what’, ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how’. Sometimes these questions can still be answered with short factual answers, but they have the potential to be much broader.
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When to ask different types of questions

There is a place for closed questions when questioning your ideas, but mostly around whether you have achieved particular success criteria. If your ideas don’t achieve the success criteria, then these sorts of questions will help you to identify that.

However, open questions are much more useful – for example, if you haven’t hit one of the success criteria, the obvious question is ‘how could this be adapted to meet the success criteria?’ Other open questions that you might find useful include:

  • How does this idea fit in with the brief?
  • What could make this idea better?
  • What would make this shorter / easier to use / more engaging / simpler to understand / more enjoyable?
  • How will I know if this is an idea that will work in practice?
  • How will other people react to this idea? 
  • What makes me think that this is the best idea I can come up with?
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can share examples of how ideas develop and change. For example, looking at how the car evolved from a horseless carriage to where we are today, or how mobile phones evolved. The critical point is that no idea reaches perfection, and a core attitude around creativity is the willingness to challenge oneself to keep developing ideas and improve on them. Learners could be encouraged to come up with some examples themselves. 
  • Learners can then be presented with a stimulus or challenge to come up with ideas for. Learners will work individually to come up with some initial ideas (this could be a good chance to reinforce the previous step about mind mapping). Then ask them to come up with 5-10 questions to challenge their work. They can ask these to themselves or their peers. 
  • Learners should then use those questions to help them to redraft and to improve their ideas further. 

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself well to being reinforced across other learning, because it is healthy for learners to build a positive attitude to redrafting and reworking their ideas. This concept could be used across lots of different subject areas too.

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through discussion. For example, starting with an exercise similar to that laid out above for Teach It. After that, asking learners to produce and discuss a redraft, demonstrating how they questioned themselves and how these questions led to improvements in their ideas.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who is involved in generating and developing ideas.

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

  • Discuss with the individual the value of redrafting and reworking ideas.
  • Model how questions can be asked to improve an idea. During a check in, a manager can show how the effects of this process, using iterations of a mobile phone as an example. In this example, a manager might compare releases of an iPhone, modelling the questions the designers may have asked themselves in order to improve on their original idea of a ‘smartphone’.
  • Task team members with an exercise to find examples of where questions have been used in the business to improve an idea. This could involve an individual interviewing experienced colleagues in the product development. 
  • Reflect with the individual about who are the role models in the business who demonstrate this skill step frequently. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During the stages in a project where ideas are being redrafted with a focus on improving them. 
  • Working with customers or clients: Creating a customer benefit by using questions to improve the existing products and solutions they enjoy.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is can be assessed by discussing with the individual how they might improve a product or service. During the discussion, an observer might use questions to check if an individual is aware of how questions can be used to build an idea. They can also use questions to check the individual knows what questions would achieve this.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Tasking an individual on an exercise which is about improving an idea or process. Once the individual has completed the exercise, they could be tasked to write a reflective essay to explain their approach to the task. Their answers can be reviewed for evidence of the questions they asked themselves to improve the idea.

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

Why this skill step matters in education

Questioning sits at the heart of learning, boosting our curiosity and promoting our creativity. Open questions starting with ‘why, how, who, when or what’ can help provide broader answers. By asking ourselves questions, instead of looking at a problem as a fixed statement, we challenge our brain to look for an answer. For example, instead of saying ‘I don’t know how to do X’ we can ask ‘Who do I know that could show me how to do X?’. Developing our ideas through questioning is a useful tool when redrafting our work and making improvements.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

At work we may use questioning to check if we have met our success criteria or to help us set a clear brief. For example, we may ask ‘What is another way of looking at this?’. Questions can provide us with additional information that can help us fulfill our responsibilities in a better way. They can help us direct our thinking and approach a problem in new ways which lead to original solutions for new processes, products, services or responses to colleagues, clients, or customers.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

We might ask ourselves questions to help us with our personal development and to better understand our interests and ambitions. Whether we are making plans or creating something new, questions can lead to a broader development of our ideas and support us to make positive changes.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Creativity, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step, and have a go!

  • Before you finish working on something, take a moment to ask yourself ‘What could make this idea better?’ or ‘What would make this shorter / easier to use / more engaging / simpler to understand / more enjoyable?’ Use these questions to further develop and refine your work.
  • Ask to swap your work with someone else; as you review each other’s work, make a list of 5 questions to help them develop their idea further.
  • When making plans for your free time, ask yourself what you enjoy most and if there is something new you’d like to try. What new plans can you make?

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