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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 2, individuals will show that they can listen and then ask questions to clarify their understanding. 

This step builds on the previous two steps of Listening, which focused on being able to listen without interrupting, and then being able to recall basic instructions.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to check your understanding when listening 
  • Using questions to check your understanding

Reflection questions

  • When is it important to check understanding? 
  • How do you check if you understand something?
  • How can you check your understanding of something through questions?
  • What are good or bad questions to ask?

What you need to know

How to check your understanding when listening

Even if you are a good listener, what you understand will only be as good as how clear the communication is that you are receiving. 

Before you can expand your understanding further, it is often helpful to check that you have understood what you have heard. If you don’t then sometimes misunderstandings can grow.

Some ways of checking your understanding are:

  • Repeating back what you think you heard
  • Rephrasing what you heard to check that you understand the meaning
  • Drawing a link to something comparable to check your understanding – for example, ‘is that like the time that…’ or ‘is this similar to…’
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Using questions to check your understanding

When you ask questions to check your understanding, you should first reflect on what you have already understood so that your questions are relevant

Some ways of thinking through whether you understand something, might be to think through the key questioning words:

  • Who – who is involved, and how?
  • What – what is happening?
  • Where – where is this taking place?
  • When – when is this happening; at what time and for how long?
  • How – how is this going to happen; what are the steps that will be followed? 

To make sure you are asking good questions, make sure that they are relevant to the situation. Questions that are not relevant will waste time and suggest to the speaker that you have not been listening.

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Advice for

Individuals

Why this skill step matters in education

In education, we spend a lot of time learning new things. At times, this information may not be clear or we might not fully understand what is being shared. If we do not try to resolve this, it could lead to us missing out on important information or misunderstanding something. Lots of our learning builds on ideas we have previously explored so we need to make sure that we are confident in what we learn as we go along. If we do not understand something, we must know what questions we can ask to help us. We might need to ask questions in different settings, for example in a classroom, a seminar group or a club. We need to think carefully about what we don’t understand so we can ask specific questions which might, in turn, support others as well.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

When working, you will probably have to interact with others, listen to presentations or be given verbal instructions which you are expected to follow. At times, what you have heard may not be clear and you will need to gather more information to build your comprehension. It is important that you know and understand what has been said in order to perform your job effectively, keep yourself and others safe or support colleagues in their roles. You may need to ask multiple questions in order to do this and these could be directed at peers, a manager or a customer so it’s important to consider what you already understand before asking your questions.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

We need to listen to lots of different people in our wider life. Whether it’s a friend, family member, coach, instructor or acquaintance, it is important that we understand what they are trying to share. Occasionally this might not be clear which might make it difficult to support them or carryout what you have been asked to do. We might feel more comfortable asking questions to some people than others but it’s important that we do it in order to fully understand what is being said. By taking a moment to think about what you already know, you can reduce the number of questions you ask and build up a clearer picture. By being able to successfully listen, we are able to build positive relationships with others.

How to practice 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!

  • Ask a friend or peer to teach you something new: for example, an interesting fact, how to say 1-10 in a different language, or how to draw something. Try to ask at least two questions about what they have said. How did the questions help to develop your understanding?
  • Ask a friend or peer to try to share a message or sentence with you without using spoken words. Try to work out what they are saying by asking questions and getting them to nod or shake their head.
  • When listening to some instructions, consider two questions you could ask to develop your understanding of the task. Either note these questions down or find an appropriate time to ask the speaker.

Build this step

Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The learners could be given some basic information about something – for example an upcoming event. They should then formulate the questions they need to build up a full understanding of what is going on. For example, when the event is, what will happen, who will be invited, and what is going to happen to get that event ready. 
  • They can then try it out with one another. For example, one learner can be given a set of information but can only share it when they have been asked a question that gives them the chance to share that information. This can be extended, where relevant, to sharing of subject knowledge like historical events or scientific ideas. 
  • Learners could be given a topic to investigate by developing the questions that they would like to understand the answers to, and then inviting in an expert to help address those questions. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be regularly practised in the classroom. Some things that the teacher could do include: 

  • Reminding learners of the key clarifying questions that they might ask – visual reminders of these around the learning environment might be helpful. 
  • Deliberately encouraging learners to ask questions to expand their understanding of a particular topic or in classroom learning more widely.
  • If learners have opportunities to share their work, encourage other learners to find out more by asking clarifying questions to deepen their understanding of what is being shared. The teacher should praise learners who ask effective clarifying questions. 

Assessing it 

This step can be assessed through observation and structured activity. For example:

  • The teacher can encourage learners to ask questions of one another after having presented an idea or a piece of work. Observe and record which learners can ask good questions.
  • The teacher can set an activity where learners are only given partial information, which then requires that learners ask questions to complete their understanding.
  • Over the longer-term, the teacher can observe learners and their ability to follow instructions and to check understanding when they are listening.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant for anyone who takes instructions from others through the course of their work, whether this be colleagues, customers or partners. 

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

  • Discuss with the individual when it is appropriate to ask questions to check for understanding. A manager might decide to have this discussion during a check-in if there has been a history of an individual misunderstanding tasks that have been given to them.  
  • Explain to the individual some of the questions that they might use to check their understanding. 
  • Model the technique of drawing a link to something comparable to check for understanding, during a team meeting. When an individual explains a task, the manager might use the technique, explaining afterwards how this has helped them to check they understand. The individual can then see the skill step in action. 
  • Task an individual to observe a technical staff member as they formulate relevant questions to uncover the root cause of a technical issue. This would effectively demonstrate the skill step in action.
  • Reflect with the individual on the barriers which might be preventing them from asking questions to check they understand.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During the initial scoping phase of a project, individuals might practise formulating questions to build up a full understanding of the project requirements after they receive basic information on a project.
  • Working with customers or clients: When handling customer queries or requests either face-to-face or over the telephone when requests seem unclear.

Reviewing it:

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

  • Line managers can observe their reports and note instances where a failure to ask questions has led to a misunderstanding. This could come in the form of a piece of work not meeting the right quality standards or arriving late, overbudget or not meeting the right specification.
  • This step can also be assessed by reviewing customer feedback to understand if their requests were understood correctly. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual during a practical exercise which requires the candidate to ask questions in order to receive the information required to complete a task satisfactorily.

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