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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 15, individuals will show that they can listen critically and avoid being influenced by the way speakers speak or act, to be objective in how they evaluate different perspectives. 

This step draws together a lot of the various elements in the other steps, including the ability to recognise how speakers try to influence, and being able to evaluate different perspectives.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Why we need to be aware of our own biases 
  • How to be open-minded about the speakers

Reflection questions

  • What does it mean to be objective?
  • What can get in the way of us being objective listeners?
  • What biases do we need to avoid?
  • How do we listen with an open mind?
  • Do you feel that you can do this?

What you need to know

Being aware of our biases as listeners

In Step 13, we explored some different biases that affect us all. These are cognitive biases and come from mental shortcuts in our brains. These 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 particular view of the world. We disregard information that goes against our view of the world or how things should be – 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. 
  • 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 us reluctant to changes that involve any 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.

To be effective critical thinkers, we need to be aware of how these biases could affect how we listen. Without being aware of these biases, we cannot be objective in evaluating what we hear on its own merits.

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Being open-minded about the speakers

Two other cognitive biases affect how we judge the speakers that we are listening to themselves. These are:

  • 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 bad impression of someone, and so we mainly spot the negative things they do, and downplay the good things.

We make judgements of others very quickly – this is the talk of ‘first impressions’ that we often hear, where we make a judgement about whether we see someone as credible very swiftly and then tend not to stray from that original view.

There is also the risk of prejudices. There is a danger that part of the rapid assessments we make are related to easily visible characteristics like age, gender, race, disability and others (see Step 13 for more). We need to be aware and consciously challenge ourselves on whether we have an unconscious bias when it comes to how we listen to speakers.

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Being objective

Once we are aware of our biases means that we can consciously challenge ourselves and then focus on what we are hearing. This means using some of the techniques from Step 11 to develop a mental model of the options and arguments themselves, and using that for evaluation.

In this way, we can focus on the content of the ideas and reasoning rather than being distracted or misled by our biases. 

When we listen better, we learn more, think more clearly, and make better decisions.

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Advice for

Individuals

Why this skill step matters in education

In education, we interact with many different people on a daily basis. This could include an employer coming in to do a talk, members of the local council visiting the site or external guests presenting on particular issues. When listening to others, we must challenge ourselves around forming initial judgements on someone based on a first impression. We might miss out on interesting or important information being shared if we are not aware of this. If we focus on what is being said as opposed to the way someone presents themselves, for example, we can find clarity in our ideas and make well-informed decisions.  

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, we often listen to presentations, pitches or talks delivered both by people who work internally within the organisation or externally as part of something separate. In order to get the most from other people’s perspectives, it’s important that we remain objective. When we first meet or listen to people, we can often make a snap judgement based on this initial impression. This can be based on our own internal biases. By remaining open-minded about a speaker or presenter, we are able to focus on evaluating the content of their ideas and the reasoning behind them. This can help to inform us of interesting viewpoints we might not have considered before and ultimately benefit the business more widely.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In our wider lives we are exposed to a variety of perspectives from many different types of people. With the rise of social media, we are exposed to more voices and it is important that we approach what is being shared in a critical way. If we are influenced by unconscious bias when listening to a speaker, we might miss out on learning about new perspectives and viewpoints that could be exciting or positively challenge the way we have historically seen something. On the other hand, it can be challenging to listen to perspectives or opinions that are different to our own but they can help us to grow and learn to understand others more comprehensively.  

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Listening, 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!

  • Research or revisit the different types of bias that exist. Over the course of a day or a week, try to identify when you hear different biases. Make a note of them and analyse what you have found. Are some biases more common than others? In what situations did you identify them? Did you notice any in yourself?
  • Organise a debate on a topic that you are passionate about. Encourage the speakers to formulate arguments objectively. Consider how to best do this and share advice ahead of the debate.
  • Listen to a debate or discussion and note down your thoughts throughout. At the end, analyse what you have written. Can you identify any bias in what you have written? How could you avoid this in the future?
  • Watch a clip of someone delivering a speech or talk. Only listen to one minute and then note down your initial thoughts on the speaker. Can you identify any judgements you have initially made? Where did they come from? What influence might they have on your ability to listen to what is being said?

Build this step

Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should reintroduce the idea of bias and remind learners that while they might have previously thought about speakers’ biases, they will have biases as listeners too. 
  • These biases affect the weight they place on the arguments and how credible they see the speaker as being from the outset. The teacher could structure a discussion in class about those different types of bias and the impact that they have if they are not addressed. 
  • Learners can then review what they have learnt from Steps 9-14 for how to listen to and evaluate what they hear objectively.
  • Debate – either filmed or in class – could be a good way of allowing learners to try to think about how they can cut through their biases to think about the arguments objectively, and come to a defensible position. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be regularly reinforced, particularly thinking about how to ensure that learners are aware of biases that they might hold and surfacing them. Some of the fundamentals of critical listening can be extended to critical thinking more broadly. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a structured assessment:

  • Firstly, checking that learners can identify the different types of cognitive bias and the effects that they might have when they are listening
  • Secondly, to show that they can listen to different perspectives on a problem and make an objective assessment of what they have heard. Discussion with the teacher can help to surface how the identified and dealt with their biases.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who will use their listening skills to understand issues at work. This will be particularly relevant for those who use this understanding to help others make decisions about what to do next.

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

  • Explain to an individual that they themselves will have biases as listeners. These biases both affect the weight they place on a speaker’s arguments and how credible they see the speakers as being from the outset.
  • Model how bias affects our ability to make objective decisions. A manager might use the example of cognitive biases playing out in the recruitment and selection process to demonstrate here. For example, they could point to an example of a recruiter, with a past experience of working with a candidate, viewing a candidate’s performance differently compared with a recruiter with no experience, to show the effect of the halo bias. In this example, a manager might show what the recruiter can do to be aware of their bias and the affect it may have on their judgement.
  • Task an individual to reflect on the biases they are most susceptible to as a listener. A manager might support this process through asking some of the reflection questions listed above.

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 being aware of individuals’ biases which might affect the quality of a decision. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When communicating with customers or clients to surface biases in order in order to achieve a better result. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through questioning over a series of events. For instance:

  • A manager might question an individual to check they can identify the different types of cognitive bias and the effects that they might have when they are listening.
  • A manager might check this against how they observe an individual to be listening during interactions with others when these biases could play out.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing during an individual during an assessed exercise where they are required to listen critically by looking beyond the way speakers speak or act to objectively evaluate different perspectives.

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

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