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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 5, individuals will be able to listen effectively and then be able to identify and record key information. 

This builds on previous steps that focused on how to listen effectively to simple instructions, to be able to recall longer speech and to understand the different purposes of communication.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning how to:

  • Sustain concentration and focus when listening over a longer time
  • Identify key pieces of information 
  • Record information in a way that makes it accessible again in the future

Reflection questions

  • How do you find listening for 20-30 minutes?
  • What causes you to lose focus and concentration? 
  • Do you have any ways of helping to maintain concentration? 
  • Can you just write down everything you hear?
  • If not, how do you know which information to write down?
  • How do you take notes at the moment?
  • What tricks can you use to save writing words when you’re listening?

What you need to know

Why sustaining concentration can be difficult

Many people have cycles of concentration which last for 15-20 minutes – so it is not unusual for someone to find listening for up to 30 minutes to be a challenge. 

Concentration requires effort and after a few minutes we become much more easily distracted than we were at the outset of the activity.

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How to sustain concentration over a longer time

There are some things we can do to support sustained concentration over a longer period: 

  • We can actively try to avoid anything that might distract us – for example, by putting away stationery, tools, papers or notes that we don’t need.
  • We can also avoid looking at other things or people who might distract us – for example, by looking out of the window. 
  • Finally, as our concentration weakens, we become more aware of any discomfort we might feel – for example, a squeaky or uncomfortable chair. Making sure we’re comfortable before listening for a sustained period can set us up for success.
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Identifying key pieces of information

It is near impossible for anyone to record exactly what is being said when someone is speaking – the average person speaks between 125 and 150 words per minute. On the other hand, the average person can only write up to 20 words per minute by hand, or around 40 words per minute when typing. Therefore, it is important to be selective in what is being written down. 

Normally, when someone is writing as they listen, they are note-taking. This is about selecting the most important facts or pieces of information and ensuring that they are recorded. For example, in history you would want to record key dates, individuals and places but might not need to record all of the narrative around them. 

If the person you are listening to makes the same point more than once, or emphasises it, then it is likely to be an important piece of information that you should record.

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Recording information in an understandable way

Some important techniques to use when taking notes include:

  • Be clear on what the topic is: If you start with an understanding of the objective and what is being covered when you listen, it is much easier to organise your notes. 
  • Bullet points: Instead of writing in long sentences, use bullet points to write down the key facts in shortened sentences. These are normally arranged under a particular theme – as we’ve been modelling in this Handbook. 
  • Drawing out links between ideas: Particularly if you’re writing notes by hand, you don’t need to be constrained by writing all your notes in lines. Instead, you might draw links, or use flow diagrams to highlight how different concepts link together. Arrows are a good way of showing links and flows between things. 
  • Find your shorthand: Over time you might find abbreviations that work for you and stop you from having to write long words over and over again. For example, ‘=’ instead of ‘means that’, or ‘→’ instead of ‘led to’, or ‘~’ instead of ‘about’. You can also use acronyms or abbreviations.
  • Separate key facts or vocabulary: You might want to use a different part of your page to record key facts or vocabulary so you have them all together.

At the end of your notes, it can sometimes be helpful to take time to think about everything that you heard. You can then use this time to create a summary of the main points.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • Learners could listen to a modelled example of a talk. The teacher can listen with the class to a video or an audio track and show them on the board how to make notes, modelling some of the techniques that have been used above.
  • The teacher can build up from this by getting learners to listen to a short video or audio clip and again ask them to make notes and then share what they came up with. If the teacher completes this at the same time, then it can act as a helpful exemplar. 
  • Finally, learners can build up to listening for a longer time, with the teacher supporting them to maintain concentration and make notes as they go. 

Reinforcing it

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

  • Find opportunities to deliver content in a block of time and encourage learners to make notes as they go. These notes can be reviewed or marked as the teacher would another piece of written work
  • Regularly remind learners before they listen for a sustained period about how to maintain their concentration
  • Create some shared guidelines as a class for what good note-taking looks like in your classroom – possibly including a shared shorthand notation

Assessing it 

This step lends itself well to being assessed through a simple exercise: Give learners the challenge of listening to a sustained presentation on a relevant topic and set them the challenge of making notes as they listen. 

Afterwards, the teacher can check whether they have secured the step by reviewing the quality and accuracy of the notes they have made. Alternatively, learners could be given a short test of the key facts, with access to their notes so that if they have recorded the information appropriately then it will be available to them.

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:

  • Explain to an individual which pieces of information are important to include in when making notes. To achieve this, both the manager and individual might attend a meeting together, take notes and then compare them at the end.
  • Model how to take notes during a team meeting. When modelling this skill step to the group, the manager could choose to write on a flip chart or on a whiteboard so that all parties can see the skill step in action.
  • Set an exercise where an individual can observe different examples of shorthand in action. This could be achieved by tasking an individual to shadow experienced staff take notes as they process orders from a customer.  
  • Reflect with the individual on the advice they would give others on how to produce good notes. This might involve the individual writing out guidance on how to listen capture and share notes from team meetings to share with others.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During team meetings, individuals could take turns adopting the role of note taker during team meetings.
  • Working with customers or clients: When handling customer enquiries and requests for information which require keeping notes or follow up action.

Reviewing it:

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

  • Individuals can be tasked to listen to a sustained presentation on a topic making notes as they listen. This could be in the format of notes taken during a team meeting or another presentation. 
  • Afterwards, you can check whether they have applied the skill step by reviewing the quality and accuracy of the notes they have made.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual as they listen to a recruiter explain important information about the next steps in a process which they are involved in, and whether they can take notes as they listen. 
  • Observing an individual during a practical exercise which requires the individual to complete a task using information they have heard. A task which requires the individual capture some data might work well here.

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