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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 6, individuals will show that they can manage disagreements towards achieving shared solutions. 

In the previous step, the focus was on how to set up and manage a group discussion in the format of a meeting. This step focuses on when there are disagreements, how these can be positive opportunities, and how to work towards a shared solution.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • When disagreements are helpful
  • When disagreements can become unhelpful
  • How to turn disagreements into shared solutions

Reflection questions

  • When have you experienced disagreements that end up being helpful?
  • When have you seen disagreements that are unhelpful?
  • What do you think works to turn disagreements into shared solutions? 
  • Do you have any examples of having done this, or seen others do it?

What you need to know

Disagreements

It is easy to fall into the trap of imagining that all disagreements are unhelpful. We might believe that it is much better if everyone immediately agrees what the right thing is to do and gets onto it. Sometimes this is the case, particularly for routine or straightforward decisions.

However, when trying to decide on something more complicated, it can be damaging to all just agree with one another. This risk is called groupthink.

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Groupthink

Groupthink occurs because people tend to want to agree with each other. It is much more pleasant than arguing, and the more it seems that everyone agrees with each other, the more difficult it will be for any individual to disagree with the rest of the group. It might also be that group members believe the decision has already been made. In this case, there is little to gain by questioning or disagreeing with what is proposed.

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When groupthink leads to bad decisions

There are lots of examples of when group think has led to bad decisions. These bad decisions occur because there are often good reasons for people to disagree:

  • They might have information or insights that others in the group don’t have.
  • They might have a different perspective that others in haven’t seen – for example, seeing an effect that others haven’t imagined.
  • They might have better ideas of how a problem could be solved.
  • They might see problems that haven’t been considered.
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When disagreements are helpful

If shared well, these disagreements are healthy and helpful and a good leader will encourage their team to contribute to discussions and actively encourage different views and perspectives. This giving permission for people to disagree is essential – the leader should be clear that they are not fixed on the answer before the conversation has taken place.

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When disagreements are unhelpful

While disagreements are often helpful when built into conversation well, they can be harmful if the timing or way they are delivered is wrong. Some times that differences become negative include when:

  • Offered in the wrong way: It is possible to disagree without being unpleasant. People disagreeing can always show that they understand another person’s perspective, can always be polite, and can always speak calmly and pleasantly. 
  • Delivered at the wrong time: Disagreements are much more difficult to manage if they are shared after a discussion, when tasks are underway. This doesn’t mean that they should never be shared – for example, some new information might come to life, or an unexpected danger might be spotted. However, it is much more difficult to adapt if disagreements arise late.
  • An unwillingness to change: Most differences come about because of different information or views and can generally be resolved. Sometimes though, people hold on to their opinions and refuse to listen to others or think differently. In these cases, disagreements can become hard to resolve and so are much less helpful.
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How to reach shared solutions

An essential part of a leader’s role is to resolve disagreements to achieve reasonable, shared solutions. There are several steps to doing this effectively:

  • Give everyone to the opportunity to share their views – be clear that a decision has not yet been made, so people feel it is worth sharing what they think. 
  • Actively encourage a range of views – make sure that you are not just hearing from the same people that you always hear from, and be clear that everyone has something to contribute. Ask if anyone disagrees, or sees things differently. 
  • Build a shared understanding – ask questions to check what people think and why. Don’t let people just make assertions without backing up the reasons why they believe that. This might mean sharing data, past experiences or other facts. 
  • Frame the choices – sometimes, you will need to choose between two or more different options. Other times there will be a compromise where you do a bit of two or more options, or sometimes you can combine ideas to reach a better answer. 
  • Reach consensus – in the end, you want everyone to agree so that you have a shared plan. You can help to achieve this by asking whether people are happy with the proposed approach. If you do not all agree, then you can use voting to help make the decision. 
  • Be clear about what has been decided and why – it might be that in the end, not everyone is totally pleased. You can bring them along most effectively by talking them through the different views and why the decision has been made. This transparency will help to get people behind the approach, even if they don’t agree entirely.
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should first model why it can be that disagreements can be positive – giving some examples of silly decisions and the adverse effects they could have if no one had disagreed with them. 
  • Learners could expand their ideas of ways that disagreements can be helpful – the teacher can capture and record these different ideas. 
  • The conversation can then expand to talk about when differences can be unhelpful – which might be drawn from learners’ experiences. 
  • Good and bad disagreements could be modelled by giving learners an exercise where they have different perspectives on a question that has been proposed – for example, selling the school or college’s playing fields. They could be allocated different roles and bring diverse perspectives to the discussion. In this scenario, the leader has a vital role in encouraging different views and trying to reach a consensus. 
  • Learners can reflect on the lessons they have learned and potentially repeat the exercise with a different question – for example, whether the school week should be shortened to four days. 

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself well to being reinforced in the classroom. For example, when there are interesting or controversial topics, learners could be asked to take a view as a group, and this will give them a chance to air different perspectives and then to try to reconcile them. The teacher could provide learners with differing pieces of information to encourage discussion. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observing an activity like that outlined above. The teacher should look for evidence that the leader sees the value of disagreements and actively encourages different contributions. This can be supplemented by a reflection conversation or written reflection, where the learner thinks about how they used some of the approaches outlined above.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This skill step is useful to all individuals who work with others. 

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

  • Show an individual how disagreements can be helpful. To achieve this a manager might provide some examples of poor decisions that have been made and the negative consequences that resulted from no disagreement.
  • Explain to an individual when disagreements are unhelpful, using some of the points listed above to support the explanation. 
  • Task an individual on an exercise where they can see disagreements being turned into shared solutions. This could be observing an experienced colleague.
  • Reflect with the individual about what they saw to consolidate learning. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When debating contentious issues as a group, where you can give individuals an opportunity to share their diverse perspectives before reaching a decision.
  • Working with customers or clients: When trying to satisfy a customer who has a conflicting view on an issue, with a focus on doing so positively and politely. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • A manager can use questioning to check an individual understands when disagreements can be helpful and when they are unhelpful. 
  • A manager can see evidence of this skill step when the individual disagrees with counterproductive decision in a way that follows the guidance above.
  • Finally, the individual should demonstrate that they are open to disagreements and are able to manage them to get to better solutions. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual during a simulation where an individual is able to show how they can disagree in a way that is helpful. A good example of this might be a customer – employee interaction. This situation could require that to disagree helpfully to an unreasonable customer. 
  • Alternatively, the individual might be part of a group conversation, and demonstrate that they can cope with different points of view and reconciling those.

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

In education, there will be occasions when we have to work with others to reach a shared decision. Disagreements can be challenging when we are learning the early steps of Leadership and therefore mastering this step is essential. Disagreements in educational settings may arise when planning activities, for example, charity events or agreeing a class project. Even simple decisions, such as confirming a name for a team can create disagreements and upsets. It is important that disagreements are managed rather than avoided.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, disagreements within a group may arise because the members of the group have different priorities. For example, a group trying to make a decision about the timing of a product launch may include people from different departments, each with different expectations of a workable time frame and perhaps limitations not known by other departments. It is important the disagreements are managed so that one realistic and achievable plan can be agreed, which suits the whole organisation.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Disagreements can arise socially, for example, friends may wish to do different things on their Friday evening together. Confidence in this step of Leadership will enable you to manage any disagreements and reach a conclusion which enables everyone to enjoy the experience together. Careful management is essential to ensure individuals feel involved and in agreement and not isolated or left out.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Leadership, 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!

  • Think back to an occasion when you and friends were deciding what to do or where to go. Did you all agree immediately? Did anyone take responsibility and ensure everyone had a voice and had their idea heard? Did one person take control of the situation? How did you reach agreement? Was everyone happy?
  • Think about when someone did not agree with the group decision and was particularly upset or angry about the decision. How did you know how they felt? Did you or anyone do anything to help the situation? What could have been done differently?
  • Make a list of all the things you could say in a group setting to ensure everyone had their opinion heard.
  • Make a list of things you could say or do if there were disagreements but you needed to move forward quickly and reach a shared decision.

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