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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 13, individuals will show that they can think about bias when looking to understand different perspectives. 

In the previous two steps, the focus has been on listening critically by comparing perspectives and then thinking about what might underpin individuals having those different views. This step builds on this by investigating whether a perspective is biased.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What we mean by bias
  • Where bias comes from 
  • Why bias matters: Cognitive biases and Prejudices 
  • How to identify bias when listening
  • How to recognise our own biases

Reflection questions

  • What is bias?
  • Why does bias matter?
  • How can we spot bias?
  • Do you have any examples of bias you have seen?

What you need to know

What bias means

Bias is when someone has a disproportionate or prejudged preference towards or against someone or something. Essentially, they have already made up their mind of what they think based on some details of the situation rather than the entire situation.

There are many different types of bias. The two we explore here are cognitive biases and prejudices.

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Where bias comes from: cognitive biases

There are many different types of bias, many of which come from the limitations or short-cuts of the human brain. These are called cognitive biases, and examples include:

  • Anchoring bias: Where we put too much focus on the first piece of information we learn, and this becomes the starting point for any further discussion.
  • Attribution bias: Where we try to explain people’s behaviour with only limited information, and so we assume why they did particular things – a risk that we highlighted in the previous Step
  • Confirmation bias: Where we unconsciously look for information that confirms our view of the world. We disregard information that goes against that view – generally without even realising it. 
  • Framing bias: Where we try to fit complex events into a straightforward narrative to help explain the world. This often means that we lose essential insight because we are trying to simplify everything. 
  • Halo effect: Where we have a good impression of someone, and so we see all the good that they do, and unconsciously disregard the bad.
  • Horn effect: Where we have a poor impression of someone, and so we mainly spot the negative things they do, and downplay the good things. 
  • Loss Aversion: Where we fear loss more than we value gains, and so will do more to avoid a loss than we would to gain a similar amount. This can make individuals averse to changes that involve risk.
  • Self-esteem effect: Where we reinforce our importance and goodness, by mentally taking credit for collective achievements, and blaming others for things that go wrong.
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Where bias comes from: prejudices

While some biases are the result of the limitations of the human brain, other prejudices are learnt or absorbed and can be more damaging. 

At the core of these biases are judgements of an individual based on some characteristic, which can include:

  • Age
  • Appearance 
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Income background
  • Nationality
  • Political views
  • Religion
  • Sexuality 
  • Social class

Acting along these biases is generally illegal in the UK. However, often these biases are not explicit and can be hard to prove. There is also evidence of bias which does not lead to outright discrimination but to ways, sometimes subtle, in which groups are disadvantaged relative to the prevailing norms.

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Why does bias matter?

Bias clearly matters when individuals are discriminated against, or not given the same opportunities to contribute and thrive. This is a clear injustice, and that is why such behaviour is illegal. It also squanders the talents of those involved and undermines their abilities and contribution. 

Cognitive biases are also significant because it leads to the wrong decisions being made. They are shortcuts which save thinking time, and which are frequently helpful when navigating the world with the limited brainpower that we have. But when it comes to important decisions or perspectives, mistakes can be caused by these biases.

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How to identify bias

We can only identify bias when we are listening by taking a critical, questioning approach to what we are hearing. This is not an easy thing to master, and one of the reasons that this step is at the advanced end here. 

The critical thing is to keep reflecting on several questions:

  • What evidence is backing up the points that they are making?
  • Is this evidence credible, or is it the result of a cognitive bias?
  • What are they assuming, and are these assumptions biases?
  • Do they show a willingness to adapt their perspective, or are they fixed in their view? 

By being more aware of the cognitive biases and prejudices that exist, then we are more likely to be able to recognise them. The critical thing is to consciously think about trying to understand them.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should introduce the concept of bias and ask learners to think about what they think it means and why it matters.
  • The teacher can introduce the range of cognitive biases, asking first if learners can give any examples. For each type of bias, learners can discuss a case or two of what that bias might look like, or where they have felt that particular cognitive bias themselves and what the result was.
  • The teacher can then introduce the second type of bias – prejudices. It’s important to emphasise that prejudices are not always overt or even conscious and that unconscious bias can also affect how people behave towards each other, or the opinions that they hold.
  • Learners could view footage or review an event which demonstrates bias and ask them to identify where there is evidence of bias. For example, a political speech often provides quite a lot of fodder for exploration – whether looking at framing effects, halo or horn effects, or the self-esteem effect. 

Reinforcing it

This is a good step to reinforce in lots of different parts of advanced studies. For instance, in reviewing topics in history or literature to identify where the writer had a biased perspective on events.

It is also helpful to encourage learners to think about what they are reading or listening to more generally, and to spot examples of different types of bias. 

Assessing it 

This step can be effectively assessed in a couple of ways:

  • Firstly, checking that learners understand what bias is and can identify most examples of cognitive bias and prejudice.
  • Secondly, seeing if learners can identify where bias might exist while they are listening critically. This can be captured in reflective conversation afterwards, or a written response.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is particularly relevant for individuals who have to consider different perspective to reach decisions, particularly where they might be controversial.

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

  • Discuss with the individual the concept of bias and ask the individual to think about what means and why it matters.
  • Model bias in conversation to help show how its unhelpful effects. Here a manager might simulate a scenario where they demonstrate an example of exaggerated bias that is easy for an individual to spot. For example, they might set up a conversation where they attribute poor sales to ‘lazy’ staff. They might then ask individuals to spot the bias and describe why it is unhelpful. 
  • Task an individual to explain to how their job performance might improve if they developed a greater awareness of their own biases. 
  • Reflect with the individual about why it can be hard to spot our own biases.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When listening to others in the team, with a focus on trying to reconcile opposing perspectives in order to choose the best course of action. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When communicating with customers or clients to manage expectations, give or take feedback and process their requests.

Reviewing it:

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

  • After discussing a topic where they disagree with another person, an individual might be asked to describe why they think a colleague has a different perspective or view on an issue.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Questioning the individual during an interview to check they can identify most examples of cognitive bias and prejudice.
  • Listening carefully to their answers to check for elements of bias.

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