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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 7, individuals will be able to use appropriate open questions to demonstrate that they are listening and to open up the conversation to learn more.  

In earlier steps, the focus has been on how to listen effectively, and then how to use body language and eye contact to show listening.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning how to:

  • Understand the difference between closed and open questions 
  • Create open closed questions to extend conversation and understanding when listening

Reflection questions

  • What is the difference between open and closed questions?
  • Can you give any examples of the difference? 
  • How can you use open questions to support being a better listener? 
  • Can you come up with examples of open questions?

What you need to know

The difference between open and closed questions

An important part of asking good questions is to know the right type of question to ask at the right time. There are two big types of questions:

  • Closed questions are those which can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. For example, ‘Is that…’ or ‘Did…’ They are useful for confirming or denying facts. However, they are not good at expanding conversations further.
  • Open questions are those that cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. For example, they tend to start with the bigger question words like ‘who’, what’, ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how’. Sometimes these questions can still be answered with short factual answers, but they have the potential to be much broader.

Creating open questions to extend conversation

The value of open questions is that they can demonstrate to the speaker that you have listened to what they have said so far, as well as permitting the speaker to expand upon the topic they are sharing. It may open up new and interesting lines of enquiry.


Combining open and closed questions

It is possible to combine a closed question with an open question to extend the conversation further too. For example, ‘did you consider doing that, and how did you make your decision?’ or ‘do you like this, and why?’


Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

In education, you will listen to many types of talks, presentations and discussions. These might be about something you have studied, a particular career path or a speech to persuade others to allow an event orchange to take place. In these situations, the use of open and closed questions can benefit the listener. Open questions demonstrate to others that you have listened well but they also help you to gain a deeper understanding of the issues being discussed. This can help you to make a more informed choice about a matter.

In school, college or university you might be studying complex topics. Closed questions can be helpful to confirm facts or details and, as time is often limited in education, they are quick to answer. Being able to ask effective open and closed questions can help you to break down complicated issues and build your knowledge successfully.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, there are many occasions when we are listening to others. We might be meeting with a new client who is explaining what they want, speaking with a manager about an important account or interacting with a customer on the shop floor. In order to understand their perspective or how to best support them, open and closed questions are an effective way to check your sense of a situation as well as learn more. It is important to know which type of question will best support the overall outcome you are aiming for so having a clear understanding of both types will be crucial.  

Why this skill step matters in wider life

We learn about life by asking questions. Using open questions allows us to find out more about a topic, a person or a situation that will help us to better understand it. In our wider lives, we may find that we take part in activities or tasks that are out of our comfort zone. This might be a learning a new craft, participating in a race or joining a club. When learning something new or experiencing something for the first time, we might need to ask questions to build our understanding. If there are multiple people taking part, we need to ensure we ask the right questions in the time we have.

Open questions can also help you to build positive relationships with others. As there is no right or wrong answer, people may feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and you might learn more about them or their 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!

  • Watch or read an interview – this could be a video clip, in a newspaper, on an online news site or in real life. Which questions are open and which are closed? How can you tell?
  • With a friend, peer or colleague, ask them to speak about a topic of their choosing for 3 minutes. As you listen, create some closed questions to confirm or deny facts. Then create open questions to find out more about the topic. Were you able to form both types of questions? Which were easier? Why?
  • Interview another person. This could be about their life, skills or a topic they are passionate about. Use open questions to build up your understanding about that person.

Build this step

Advice for


Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • Learners could look at a list of questions and decide whether they are open or closed questions.
  • Learners can then listen to a talk from a peer or their teacher, and then create closed questions to confirm or deny specific facts. They can then create open questions to broaden out the conversation.
  • Learners can interview one another by using open questions to build up their understanding of something

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself to easy reinforcement across learning. For example:

  • Before introducing questions to the class, the teacher could ask whether they are open or closed questions.
  • The teacher could put visual reminders of the difference between open and closed questions up in the classroom. 
  • If learners present to each other at different times, the teacher could encourage other learners to ask closed or open questions depending on the purpose.

Assessing it 

This step can be assessed through a simple assignment or observation. For example:

  • The teacher could set learners a challenge of creating three open questions and three closed questions in response to a stimulus
  • The teacher could give learners a list of questions and give them the challenge of sorting them into a list of open questions and closed questions

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant for all people who receive verbal instructions. This step is particularly relevant to individuals working on more complex tasks or projects and to those involved in receiving or setting work for other people.   

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

  • Discuss with the individual why it is important to deepen their understanding when listening. To do this a manager might provide examples of where an individual’s misunderstanding has resulted in a problem or draw from their own experience of misunderstanding a task.
  • Explain the difference between an open and closed question. To support this, learning and development professionals might create materials with some examples of open and closed questions to identify each in turn. 
  • Model asking open and closed questions during a line management meeting to help the individual identify the effect it has on them as a speaker
  • Set an exercise for an individual to produce a guide to using open questions to be used during an end of project review.
  • Reflect with the individual about which questions were most useful in creating the desired effects at the end of the activity.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During meetings, the individual can practice formulating and asking open ended questions to various project stakeholders, to develop a broader understanding of a project. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When discussing a brief with a customer or client either over the telephone or face-to-face. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • An individual could be observed as they work with others to discuss a problem. This will create an opportunity to assess whether participants can put the skill step in action.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual during an assessed exercise which requires the individual work with others to discuss a problem. This will create an opportunity to assess whether participants can put the skill step in action.

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.

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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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