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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 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.

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 0, individuals will have to be able to listen to others, without interrupting.

This is the first step in building this skill, and provides the foundation for more advanced steps in Listening.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What it means to listen
  • What it means to interrupt and why to avoid it
  • Some strategies to avoid interrupting

Reflection questions

  • What is listening? How do we do it?
  • Why do we listen?
  • What is interrupting and why do we do it?
  • What is wrong with interrupting someone?
  • What are some things that we can do to stop interrupting?

What you need to know

What it means to listen

Listening is about being able to receive information through our ears, and then thinking about it so that we understand what is being said.

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Barriers to listening

We cannot listen if we do not try to, if anything is in the way of our ears, or if we are thinking about something else.

It is important to listen because:

  • We might learn information that helps to protect us, or to keep us safe
  • We might understand how someone else is feeling about something 
  • We might learn how to do something better
  • We might understand something new that we hadn’t understood before
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What does it mean to interrupt?

Interrupting is stopping what someone is saying. You might do this by speaking, or by looking away or doing something that shows that you have stopped listening. 

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Reasons for interrupting

We might interrupt for different reasons – including some positive reasons:

  • We might have ideas that we are excited to share
  • We might think of something that we want to say right away
  • We might agree with the speaker and want to tell them straight away 
  • We might be running out of time to talk about something

Often though, we interrupt for less positive reasons:

  • We might disagree with them and want to put across our point of view
  • We might not be finding what they say interesting or relevant 
  • We might be bored with the conversation 
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Problems caused by interruptions

Interrupting others causes several problems:

  • It often makes the person you have interrupted feel like you don’t care what they are saying, or that they are not interesting. 
  • It often makes the person you have interrupted feel that you think your opinion is more important than what they have to say
  • It means that you have missed out on what is really being said
  • If you let someone else talk for longer, you might be surprised about what you learn – and they might say something you did not expect
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How to avoid interrupting

We can all get better at not interrupting others. At the start, this will have to be a deliberate approach of actively thinking about how we are behaving and thinking. 

Over time, as with all skill development, this will become more of an automatic habit, and not something that requires the same level of thought and attention.

Some strategies to try out are: 

  • Do try to be quiet, especially if you are normally talkative 
  • Do try to remember what is being said 
  • Do apologise if you accidentally interrupt and let the speaker talk again  
  • Do check if someone has finished before speaking, if you’re not sure
  • Don’t presume you know what is going to come next – try to think about whether anything you are hearing is a surprise to you 
  • Don’t use any pause in the conversation to start talking 
  • Don’t feel that you need to say something to show you agree – nodding and maintaining eye contact are much better ways than interrupting someone 

If you have to interrupt – for example, because you have run out of time for a conversation, or because there is an emergency – then you can still do this politely and apologetically.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • Get learners to ask a friend to tell them if they interrupt, or see them interrupting someone else 
  • Ask learners to get feedback at the end of a conversation whether the other person felt that they had interrupted them at all

If the teacher wants to use an activity to practise this skill step on then you could use a graduated level of challenge:

  • Start with one learner delivering a monologue to another – for example, about their weekend, holiday, or what they like doing at home. The other learner has to listen without interrupting for up to 3 minutes. They can then reverse roles. 
  • Then proceed onto having a conversation where they both have to share ideas and listen to one another. For example, having a conversation about what a great party would look like, or what they would like to do during their school holiday. You can have a third learner to act as an observer to highlight any times that one learner interrupts the other.

Reinforcing it

This is a step that needs regular practice to become a habit. The teacher can:

  • Encourage learners to reflect occasionally on whether they have been able to listen to one another without interrupting. 
  • Model good listening when other learners are speaking, or recognise when learners have been showing good listening. 
  • Keep visual reminders around the learning space about this specific skill step.
  • Maintain achieving this step as a target for all learners over a sustained period – for example, by having it as a target for the month.

Assessing progress 

This step is best assessed through observation. For example:

  • During class, the teacher could keep a tally of when learners interrupt the flow of conversation or one another.
  • The teacher could observe learners’ interactions with their peers, to see how well they can listen to one another without interrupting. 
  • The teacher could set a target for the class, that you reduce the number of interruptions of one another that you see over time.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who listens to others at work. 

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

  • Discuss with the individual why it is important not to interrupt others – whether colleagues, customers or partners. This can use the reflection questions outlined above, and ask the individual for their ideas. 
  • Explain to the individual about what the effect is on customers, clients or colleagues if they are interrupted. 
  • Model some of the techniques to avoid interruptions described above, providing employees with an example they can follow. This can also include how they avoid interrupting customers and other partners. 
  • Set an exercise for the individual to observe colleagues who are experienced at managing clients or customers. They could observe them listening to customers without interruption.
  • Reflect with the individual about whether they feel that they have been able to listen without interrupting after a week.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During check-ins or team meetings, ensuring that the individual can listen without interrupting.
  • Working with customers or clients: When having conversations with customers or clients, focusing on listening without cutting off or interrupting those individuals.

Reviewing it:

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

  • Tracking the number of instances where the individual interrupts the flow of conversation.
  • These could be further categorised by whether the individual has apologised for the interruption or not. 

The step could also be assessed by customer or colleague feedback.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual during an interview and checking that they are able to listen for a sustained period without interrupting.
  • Observing the individual in their interactions with other interviewers or applicants and whether they can listen to others.

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