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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 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.

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 6, individuals will be able to demonstrate that they are listening by using eye contact with whoever is speaking and other positive, encouraging body language. 

In earlier steps, individuals focused on their experience of receiving information and how to take that information on effectively. The next steps, Steps 6 to 8, focus on how individuals can demonstrate effective listening to others.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning how to:

  • Use eye contact as a sign of engagement
  • Use appropriate body language to show engagement

Reflection questions

  • Why do you think eye contact is important to show you are listening?
  • How do you feel when someone is not making eye contact when you are speaking?
  • What does positive body language look like?
  • What is the effect of positive body language? 
  • What do you do already to show you are interested?

What you need to know

Using eye contact

Eye contact is a helpful part of showing that you are listening to someone, and to show that you are not being distracted by other things.

Eye contact is also important because seeing someone’s face and their expressions give you extra information about how they feel about what they are saying. It also helps you to understand what they are emphasising, and therefore what they think is important. 

However, maintaining eye contact does not mean that you should be staring in someone’s face. This can be even more off-putting than limited eye contact. Instead, an approximate target of 60-70% eye contact is probably the best balance.

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Positive body language

We look at someone else’s body language to build our understanding of how they are feeling, and also how interested they are in us and what we have to say. So, to be a good listener you should try to ensure that body is giving the signal that you are interested in what you are hearing and that you want to hear more. Some of the ways that you can do this are:

  • Face the speaker: You should turn your body so that you are naturally facing the speaker. This might mean moving your chair – if you are uncomfortable looking at them, it will show and they might interpret that as you being uninterested or uncomfortable with what they are saying.
  • Not fidgeting: Fidgeting with your hands, feet or anything else is distracting for the speaker and you. It indicates that you want to be somewhere else. 
  • Being open with your arms: Folding your arms can look defensive – that you want to be somewhere else or that you are trying to protect yourself. Instead try to use open gestures to show that you are open to what you are hearing.
  • Leaning forwards: If you are engaged you would naturally lean forwards to show that you are wanting to take part in the conversation and to better listen to what is being said.
  • Engaged face: Seeing someone smiling helps the speaker to relax and helps them to feel that you are enjoying what they are saying. Obviously, depending on the message smiling is not always appropriate but you can still look engaged.
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • Learners can be put into pairs. They should take it in turns to talk for 3 minutes on a topic of their choosing – for example, what they would like to change about school, their favourite television show, or a hobby. 
  • For the first go, encourage learners to actively disregard the guidance on how to show that they are engaged – by avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, using closed body language, and scowling. Ask the speakers how they felt.
  • Repeat the exercise, encouraging learners to put all of the guidance on how to use eye contact and positive body language. Ask the speakers and listeners how they felt – hopefully much better. 
  • Highlight to learners that whilst eye contact and positive body language are really important when they are speaking and listening in pairs, it is also useful when they are listening as part of a larger group too. 
  • When speaking to the class as their teacher, encourage them to demonstrate that they are listening, and highlight good practice 

Reinforcing it

This is a good step to reinforce regularly in the course of normal teaching:

  • Before paired work, learners can be reminded how to do their best work together – starting by how they show that they are ready to listen and to learn from one another.
  • In the day-to-day of learning, the teacher can remind learners how to be ready for learning, and how they can demonstrate that they are ready through these same techniques.
  • The teacher could also include visual reminders of what it looks like to show that they are listening, based on the tips and techniques shared above. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation in day-to-day learning, although a particular scenario or role-play could also be created. For example, the teacher could create a check-list, based on the reminders above, and assess whether individual learners are demonstrating those. This could be extended to peer assessment too.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

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

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

  • Discuss with an individual why it is important to be aware of their body language when they are communicating with other people.  
  • Explain the effect of an individual’s body language on display, during a line management meeting.
  • Model appropriate body language to demonstrate its effect. To do this a manager might record a video call between themselves and an individual. A manager might then play back this recording, highlighting examples of body language or eye contact and the effect it has on the speaker.
  • Set an exercise where two individuals are paired together to role play a customer-employee interaction. During the first interaction, the employee acting as the listener could actively disregard the guidance on how to show that you are engaged – by avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, using closed body language, and scowling. The individual acting as the speaker could explain how they feel to show the effects of limited eye contact and body language. This exercise could be repeated, this time with the individual acting as the listener applying the guidance on how to use eye contact and positive body language. 
  • Reflect with the individual about how aware they are of their body language and what it tells others about how they are listening.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During situations when an individual is working with others face to face, in a team meeting or communicating over a technology platform like Skype or Google hangouts. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When performing a task that is about listening to another party to make them feel understood. This might be during a meeting with a client discuss their requirements for a product or service, for instance. 

An individual could also practice this skill step through volunteering in a role such as supporting a young people during their exams or coaching a nervous performer at work.  

Reviewing it:

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

  • An individual could be observed during their interaction with another person, with an assessment made on the body language on display.
  • Alternatively, an individual can be asked to identify examples of body language and the effect it creates whilst observing an interaction between two people. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing for body language when conducting an in person interview or reviewing their video interview submission.
  • This could be complemented by a reflective conversation with that individual, in case their body language is unusual because of their nervousness at the setting.

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