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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 14, individuals will show that they can use questioning to evaluate different perspectives that they are hearing. 

Since Step 10, the focus has been on listening critically, including by comparing perspectives and then trying to understand where those different views come from – whether from experiences, differing interests, beliefs and values, or biases. This step builds on that by focusing on critical questioning as a way to evaluate perspectives.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How questioning helps us fills gaps in arguments
  • How questioning can help us to identify biases 
  • Some key questions that can help to evaluate different perspectives

Reflection questions

  • Why is questioning a vital part of critical listening?
  • How can questioning help us to identify biases?
  • How can questioning help us spot flaws in arguments? 
  • What are some of the questions that might be helpful to evaluate different perspectives?

What you need to know

How to fill gaps in arguments

We looked in Step 11 at how to use the different perspectives that you are hearing to build a mental model of the options that are put forwards, and then build out the arguments for and against that option.

Questioning is critical here as a way of filling out some of the gaps that might emerge in this model. For instance:

  • Would you agree that these are the options? Are there any that I have overlooked?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of those options?
  • What do you think are the most important criteria to use to choose between the options?
  • Based on that, which option would you argue for and why?
  • Why do your criteria differ from one another? 

We can only use questioning effectively if we are already building our mental model (which can also be on paper) of the problem and the logic that joins those elements together. This is also explored in Problem Solving Step 11 and Step 12.

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How questioning identifies bias

The problem with biases, as we saw in Step 13, is that they are often implicit or unconscious. That means the individual with the bias is not necessarily even aware they have that bias. 

This means that it is particularly important for us to use questioning to try to uncover biases for ourselves. Particularly, we can ask:

  • Anchoring bias: What first made them feel that way? What other evidence do they have for what they are saying? 
  • Attribution bias: Why do they think that someone behaved that way?  
  • Confirmation bias: Have they seen anything surprising or unusual?  Is there any evidence that doesn’t fit in with their view? 
  • Framing bias: What is an alternative explanation?  Would other people see it in the same way? 
  • Halo effect: What have they got wrong? What does the data show?
  • Horn effect: What have they got right? What does the data show? 
  • Loss Aversion: What is the risk? What is the potential reward? Are we paying the right level of attention to the risks and potential rewards? 
  • Self-esteem effect: Who else has been involved? What did other people contribute? 

By asking thoughtful questions, we might begin to identify cognitive biases that can affect perspectives and help move the speaker towards a better decision, or at least help ourselves to evaluate better what we are hearing.

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Some key questions to consider

While the best questions will depend on the setting, there are some broad types of questions that are worth considering:

To get more information:

  • What is the situation at the moment?
  • What are the causes and effects of the problem?
  • What are the strengths or weaknesses?
  • Where can we get more information?
  • What are the essential facts?

To think about the options:

  • What are the alternatives?
  • What is the goal?
  • What are the criteria for choosing between the options?
  • What are some similar concepts?
  • Who benefits from these options, and who is harmed?
  • What secondary effects might there be? 

To broaden perspectives:

  • What other perspectives might there be?
  • What would be a counter-argument to this?
  • How do we know we are not being biased?
  • What might happen next?
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should introduce a discussion about how questioning plays a vital role in critical listening.
  • The teacher can talk through how the learners can use questioning to fill in gaps in arguments and complete their understanding of the perspectives they’re hearing. This could be well illustrated by a debate on a topic that learners are familiar with – for instance, whether examinations should be banned. 
  • This would be a good way for learners to think about the key questions they need to ask in order to reconcile the two different perspectives they are hearing and reach a measured view.
  • This would be a good lens for introducing questions about bias too – for example, if the learners are directly affected by the question of examinations. 
  • Finally, learners could suggest helpful questions under the three main banners suggested: Getting more information; thinking about options; and broadening perspectives. 

Reinforcing it

This is a good step to reinforce during learning across different subjects. For instance, by introducing debate or by asking learners to take the lead on getting the information they need from the teacher on a particular topic.

More broadly, it can be reinforced by encouraging learners to take a critical approach to what they hear and to avoid accepting what they hear at face value. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a structured activity such as the debate outlined above. The teacher can look for evidence that learners can develop thoughtful questions (potentially written down individually for ease of assessment) that are appropriate and help to fill out an argument or identify bias.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who will use their listening skills to understand complex issues, and have to reconcile those to reach an approach to take forwards.

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

  • Explain the value of questioning by describing how it can be used to help fill in gaps in arguments. 
  • Show how a process of questioning can uncover biases in thinking. When asked to validate a decision put forward by team members, a manager might stage an exercise where proponents are grouped together and a third party is supplied with sample questions designed to get more information, think through options and broaden perspectives. As the third party asks the proponents these questions in turn, the manager could point out any biases in thinking revealed by proponents’ answers. 
  • Task an individual to construct additional questions to reveal biases in thinking which relate to the three main categories suggested: getting more information; thinking about options; and broadening perspectives. 
  • Reflect with the individual about when they might next have an opportunity to use questioning to evaluate a different perspective.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When listening to teammates and 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 by: 

  • Asking a range of individuals, who work with the individual, to report on how frequently they have seen behaviour from them. 
  • A good way to collect this information might be through an individual ‘360’ performance review.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed by

  • Observing an individual during an assessed exercise to look for evidence that they can develop thoughtful questions which are appropriate and help to fill out an argument or identify 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