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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.


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.


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.


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.


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 4, individuals will need to understand the main reasons why others may want to communicate with them and to be able to identify when each is being used.

In the steps so far, the focus has been on the tools of effective listening, but to make progress individuals need to be able to start identifying what the purpose is behind what they are hearing.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • The key reasons why people communicate 
  • Why it is valuable to understand why someone is communicating with you 
  • What the signs are for each of those approaches

Reflection questions

  • Why do you communicate with people? 
  • Why do people communicate with one another? 
  • Why does it matter why someone is communicating with you?
  • What could happen if you misunderstand the purpose of their communication? 
  • What are the ways of telling why someone is communicating with you?
  • Are there any that are more difficult to tell than others?

What you need to know

Why people communicate

Some of the main reasons why people communicate are:

  • To share information
  • To share an opinion or view
  • To express their feelings 
  • To request something that they need
  • To learn about others 
  • To build relationships
  • To give instructions
  • To encourage others

Sometimes communication might combine two or more of these purposes – for example:

  • To give instructions and encourage someone to follow them 
  • Or to share information and then their opinion on that information

Why it matters why someone is communicating with you

Understanding the purpose behind someone’s communication with us helps us to be as prepared as possible for processing what is going on and responding appropriately.

If we misunderstand the purpose of the communication we might be unprepared to take any necessary actions after listening to the other individual. For example, if we think someone is presenting information we might not be prepared to process instructions. Or if we think someone is trying to be encouraging, we might be unhappy when they express a different opinion to us. 

Communication always works better, and is easier to listen and respond to, when we are clear on what the purpose of the communication is.


The signs of why someone is communicating with you

There are some signs you can spot to help understand why someone is communicating with you:


How you can tell

To share information

They might start with ‘Did you know…’ and talk in terms of facts and events

To share an opinion or view

They might use phrases like ‘I think that…’ or ‘In my opinion…’ and normally use more adjectives (describing words)  

To express their feelings 

They might use phrases like ‘I feel…’  and use emotional language or adjectives (describing words)

To request something that they need

A request will normally be posed as a question, although sometimes it is easier to say no than others

To learn about others and build relationships

They might be asking questions or sharing small pieces of personal information followed by questions about you.

To give instructions

They will talk directly and normally with a focus on actions and verbs (doing words)

To encourage others

They will talk in positive terms about what someone is doing and the effect it is having 


Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

In education, we listen to a variety of people on a daily basis, sharing lots of different messages. Our teacher or lecturer might share important information about an upcoming assignment or a peer might be looking for support around a particular problem. In order for us to be as prepared as possible for understanding what is going on and what is expected of us, it’s important to know why someone is communicating with you. This will ensure that you record important announcements or dates, accurately follow the instructions you have been given or understand another person’s opinion and build positive relationships with others.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, we are expected to fulfil the requirements of our job role to the best of our ability. The processes we follow to do this, whether that’s on a factory floor, in an office or on a building site, can change and often we will be updated verbally. To ensure we are prepared to complete the tasks that are expected of us in a safe and effective way, we need to be able to identify why someone is communicating with us and what action we should take as a result. If a manager shares important information with you that needs to be quickly acted upon, whereas if a colleague is just sharing an opinion, it may not require you to do or change anything.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In our wider lives we may spend time with others, such as friends, family members, or teammates, and take part in discussions or conversations. When building positive relationship with others, it’s important that we respond appropriately to what is shared with us. A friend might share some negative emotions and understanding that they are communicating with you to share their feelings is important when trying to support them.

We might also spend time watching television, reading articles or exploring the internet. It is important that we understand the purpose behind different forms of communication. This will help us to be critical about what we read and hear, ensuring we can separate out when someone is sharing a fact and when they are just voicing an opinion.

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!

  • When you are speaking with a peer, friend, colleague or manager, try to identify why you are communicating with them. How can you tell? You could ask them what they think. Did they identify the same purpose as you did?
  • Find a television programme, online video or film. Listen to what is being said and try to identify the reasons why people are communicating with each other. How can you tell?
  • During a group discussion with friends, peers or colleagues, try to work out what the purpose of their communication is. Was there more than one possibility? Did one purpose occur more than others?

Build this step

Advice for


Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • Learners should listen to several short examples of the teacher speaking and match these to the correct purpose of speech.
  • This could be extended by a matching exercise, with examples of each type of talk written down and learners having to match the phrase to the correct communication purpose.
  • This could be built on further, with learners coming up with examples to illustrate each purpose of communication.

Reinforcing it

This is a step that lends itself to regular practice in the classroom and supports effective learning. The teachers can ask learners to think about the communication they have just heard in the classroom and what the purpose of the communication was. For example, was the teacher encouraging, giving instructions, presenting facts or sharing an opinion?

This sort of modelling can be undertaken regularly and supported by visual reminders of the different purposes of communication up in the learning area.

Assessing it 

This step lends itself well to being assessed through a simple exercise. For example, a matching exercise where learners are asked to link what they have heard to what they think the purpose of the communication was, or creating their own examples of communication with different purposes.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to most individuals who work with others in the course of their work, whether colleagues, customers or partners. Individual who collaborate with others on team projects may find developing this step particularly useful.

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

  • Discuss with an individual, the signs they might spot, which suggest the purpose of a communication.   
  • Explain some of the consequences of misunderstanding the purpose of a communication. This can help an individual to understand why it is important for them to identify this when they are listening. This can be achieved for the benefit of an individual or a group through a team meeting.
  • Model an interaction between two people, drawing attention to signs which reveal the purpose for communication. 
  • Set an exercise for an individual to observe communications for different purposes in action. This could be achieved through creating a work shadowing opportunity, such as listening to calls come into a service desk and observing how they are managed.   
  • Reflect with the individual about the purposes they have for speaking to help them become more aware of the reasons why people might want them to listen. A manager might use the reflection questions to help with this.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During interactions when an individual is receiving information in a verbal format.  
  • Working with customers or clients: When handling enquiries, over the telephone or face to face phone whilst carrying out work related duties.

Reviewing it:

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

  • A manager can observe an interaction between where a is communicated between two individuals. The manager can then question an individual to check they understood the purpose of the communication.
  • A manager might also assess this skill step by checking feedback from customers or teammates as to whether an individual responded appropriately to communication.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Asking the individual about the range of reasons that people communicate with one another. 
  • Observing an individual’s response to some communication to identify whether they have understood the reason for the interaction.

Build this step

Advice for


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

At home, you can easily support your child to build their essential skills. The good news is that there
are lots of ways that you can have a big impact, including:

  • Talking with your child about the essential skills, what they are and how they are useful in all
    aspects of life, whether at school, home or in the workplace
  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own work or wider life
  • Helping your child to identify where they already build their skills at school, at home or
    through other activities and clubs
  • Praising your child when they show they are using the skills well, and helping them to feel a
    sense of achievement
  • Encouraging them to recognise and talk confidently about their skill strengths with others, and
    supporting them to develop their skills further

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