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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 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
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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.

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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:

Purpose

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 

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Advice for

Educators

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

Employers

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

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