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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 3, individuals will need to be able to listen, and retain, recall and share what they have heard.  

In Steps 1 and 2 individuals focused on their ability to listen to others and remember simple instructions, and to use questioning to check their understanding. This step builds off this by dealing with the recalling and retelling of longer pieces of information.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to listen effectively and stay focused
  • How to retain and process information
  • How to recall and explain that information to someone else

Reflection questions

  • How do you make sure you are listening?
  • How do you help ensure that you stay focused? 
  • How do you make sure you remember a longer piece of speech, a series of instructions or a story?
  • When do you find this easier or more difficult?
  • When are you good at recalling information that you have heard? 
  • What are the most important things to share?

What you need to know

Listen effectively and stay focused

In the previous steps, some approaches to ensuring focus were discussed, along with the importance of being in the right frame of mind. 

One simple model that was introduced in Step 1 to do this is to:

  • Stop anything that might be a distraction. That might include putting down stationery or tools, not writing or reading anything else, and ensuring that there are no distracting background noises. 
  • Focus on the speaker, by looking at them and being ready to receive the instructions. Your brain must be in a place of actively trying to remember what is being said. You cannot be thinking about other things. 
  • Repeat what you are hearing in your head several times so that you have been able to process them and check that you understand what they mean in your head.
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Retaining and processing information

Most people find it difficult to recall anything verbatim (that is, exactly in the same way that they were told it). Recalling what is being heard is not like trying to record in real-time what is being said. 

Instead, people remember extended things they hear in one of several ways:

  • They relate a new piece of knowledge to what they already know and fit it into an existing conceptual framework. For example, they might link something geographically, or place it in a historical context. Or they might link a concept in science to something that they have observed themselves.
  • Alternatively, people turn the information into a sequence or story that they can follow – humans are good at using stories as a way of storing information. 
  • Finally, thinking about the implications and feelings about what is being heard can be a very effective way of processing information. 

In any case, it often takes a little time to think and to process what has been heard before we can share that information on to someone else. Taking a bit of thinking time is a good idea.

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Recalling and sharing information

It is very difficult to share information that you have not had time to think about first.

When you share information, you are very unlikely to share it in exactly as you heard it. The key thing is to focus on keeping the same key points – not to get all the words right.

If you have been able to process what you have heard, you might already have turned this into a story, or be able to link what you are saying to other concepts or experiences that will be familiar to the listeners.

The most important information to share will depend on the situation, and it is worth focusing on this key information.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The learners should listen to an extended talk of 3-5 minutes, then take time to think about what they have heard and what the most important facts are. The teacher can model and scaffold this initially by listening with them and showing them how to think about what the most important pieces of information are. 
  • Once this has been modelled to learners then they can practice by listening to an extended talk or story from you for 3-5 minutes. The teacher should give them a chance to think about what they heard, and then try to tell the story to one another.
  • Another good activity, if the group makes it feasible is to play a version of ‘Chinese whispers’ – they each pass a short story along to someone else, try to recall it and then pass it on to the next person. 

Reinforcing it

This is a step that lends itself to regular practice in the classroom setting, and once mastered, will support learning and a positive classroom dynamic. The teacher can:

  • Routinely remind learners before they are listening to an explanation that they will need to be able to tell someone else what is going to happen next. The teacher could even only tell half the learners, so that they then need to explain what is happening to someone else.
  • Encourage learners to listen to a story or learn something new at home and come to class ready to recall and share what they learnt. 

Assessing it 

This step lends itself well to being assessed through a simple exercise, although it can also be observed over time.

  • The teacher could get learners to listen to a short explanation of something that you are studying – either on video or purely by listening. The learners could then work with a teaching assistant to recall what they could from what they have heard. 
  • The teacher could observe learners when they are being given some new information, and how well they can pass that information on to someone else.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who is working with others in the course of their work, whether colleagues, customers or partners.

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

  • Discuss the importance of effective listening with an individual. A manager might extend this conversation to explore how they can support an individual to think first about what you have heard first before attempting to share it with other people. 
  • Explain to an individual the typical ways people remember the things they hear to provide individuals with some ideas on how they might retain and process information. 
  • Model a process of turning the information they are hearing into a story, during a team meeting, to demonstrate an effective way of processing a lot of information. This might work most effectively if the manager used flipchart paper to display the story as it is constructed. At the end of the modelling the manager might ask the group to judge how helpful this technique has been at helping them to retain the information they have heard.
  • Task an individual to shadow a staff member involved in collecting customer feedback over the telephone. The individual could observe the staff member carrying out the processes of listening to customers feedback, processing the information and reporting their findings to the rest of the team. This could provide an example for the individual to follow.
  • Reflect with an individual on the barriers they face when trying to tell someone else something they have heard. The manager might use the reflection questions to support this process.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During discussions with colleagues about work to be completed, which need to be shared accurately with other members of the team. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When collecting customer orders or handling feedback that needs to be passed on to other members of the team. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through observing or questioning an individual. For instance:

  • A manager might question an individual to report the contents of a conversation they have been part of. A manager might listen to an individual’s response to check for accuracy.
  • A manager might observe an individual as they re-explain some instructions that they were given by someone else. By observing the interaction, the manager can check if the individual can successfully re-tell information to someone else.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Providing a briefing at the start of an interview process, and then questioning the individual during the interview to check they are able to retell that information.

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