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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 8, individuals will show that they can demonstrate that they are understanding more complex ideas by repeating or rephrasing what they have heard.  

In the earlier Steps 6 and 7, individuals showed they were listening by using eye contact, body language, and open questions. This builds further by showing engagement with the content of what they are hearing itself.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning how to:

  • Summarise or rephrase what you have heard
  • Working summarising or rephrasing into conversation

Reflection questions

  • What does it mean to summarise what you have heard?
  • What is the value of rephrasing what you have heard?
  • How would you choose between summarising or rephrasing?
  • How can you effectively build this into the flow of conversation?

What you need to know

Summarising what you have heard

Summarising is about capturing the key points of what has been said (the methods of doing this were discussed in Step 5, when taking notes). 

Summarising works well when what you are listening to is not too complicated – for example, is about a process or set of directions or instructions. Here the focus is on making sure that you can repeat back the key points without significant change, and to ensure that you have not missed anything important.


Rephrasing what you have heard

Rephrasing is an extension of summarising. Similarly, you take the main points that a speaker has made, but instead of playing that back directly, you change the way that an idea has been expressed. 

Rephrasing is most helpful when the speaker is talking about more complex concepts – for example, explaining a broader principle, or an academic concept. In this case, rephrasing is a helpful test of whether you have understood and been able to process what has been heard. Putting something ‘into your own words’ requires that you have understood what has been heard already.


The benefits of summarising and rephrasing

Summarising and rephrasing can be extremely helpful tools to help structure the flow of information. If done well, it can ensure that:

  • Anything that wasn’t clear or that you misheard when listening can be addressed quickly.
  • It provides the speaker with greater confidence that you are understanding what they are sharing.
  • The process of summarising or rephrasing helps store you to process and store the information, making it more likely that you will remember it in the future.

The importance of timing

Timing is critical for making summarising and rephrasing effective tools though:

  • If you interrupt to summarise or rephrase then it can break the flow of conversation or thought of the speaker.
  • If you leave too little time then the conversation becomes disjointed because there hasn’t been time for the speaker to fully explain the idea or instructions.
  • If you leave too much time, then you might miss the opportunity to correct a misconception on your part.

Ideally, the speaker would make clear that they had finished a point or idea by asking if that all made sense, or whether you had any questions? However, even if they don’t do that, they may well pause as they consider what is coming next. At that point, you can always chip in, starting with something like ‘so what you’re saying is…’ or ‘to check my understanding, am I right that…’ or ‘so is it the case that…’


Getting it right

You can tell if you’ve got your timing right, because:

  • If you’ve timed it right, then your speaker should seem appreciative of what you’ve checked or encouraged to speak more. 
  • If you summarised or rephrased too soon then they might seem flustered or snappy as they feel that they’ve interrupted.
  • If you leave it too long then they might start trailing off, and appearing less confident to keep speaking – they may be questioning in their head whether you can keep up?

Advice for


Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • For summarising, the teacher can start by modelling a conversation – perhaps between themselves and a teaching assistant, or one of the learners. The teacher can ask them to start giving them some key information or a set of instructions. At appropriate points, the teacher can model how to summarise what they have heard so far and how this can be built into the flow of a conversation. 
  • The teacher might also want to model what it looks like to try to summarise what you have heard too soon, or to leave it too late and show how you might have got lost by that point.
  • The learners can then work in pairs, first on giving a long set of instructions or information (of up to 5 minutes length). This lends itself best to repetition. Encourage the listener to summarise at least twice, and probably three times during that conversation. 
  • For rephrasing, it is worth starting by rephrasing a single idea first. Perhaps this is a subject-related concept, or for a more meta- approach the teacher could rephrase some of the key concepts in this step. 
  • Learners can practice this individually by being given a concept or idea, and then telling one another or to writing it down in their own words, rephrasing what they heard. 
  • Then, in pairs, learners should explain a concept or idea to one another. The listener has to find an appropriate point to check their understanding by rephrasing what they have heard. 

Reinforcing it

This is a skill step that lends itself well to being reinforced in class:

  • For example, during regular lessons, the teacher could pause at moments to ask the learners to summarise what they have learnt or heard so far, or to rephrase it to demonstrate their understanding.
  • The teacher can also continue to model that – for example, with concepts or ideas that learners find challenging, demonstrating how they rephrase these to help build understanding – which is something that teachers do naturally anyway.

Assessing it 

This step can be assessed through observation or a deliberate activity. For example:

  • The teacher could check that learners can summarise and rephrase by giving them all something to listen to for 2-3 minutes and then having to summarise or rephrase it, either verbally or in writing. 
  • The teacher will then want to check that learners can build this naturally into the flow of conversation. This could be done through peer assessment of learners as they work in pairs, or through observation of conversations.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work:

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 check you have correctly heard the main ideas when someone is speaking.
  • Explain how to identify an appropriate moment to introduce summarising and rephrasing into a conversation.
  • Model rephrasing so an individual has an example they can follow. To facilitate, a manager might demonstrate how to rephrase to check for understanding when the team is being told about a plan or new product. 
  • Set an exercise for the individual to see summarising in action. To facilitate this, a manager might set up a feedback conversation between two experienced members of staff. The individual might then observe the skill step in action as they witness an experienced member summarise the feedback they have received from their partner.
  • Reflect with the individual about when they think they have seen examples of summarising or rephrasing work effectively. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During a project when an individual should collecting staff input into plans. This might also give the individual an opportunity to practice rephrasing the idea driving the project.
  • Working with customers or clients: When ideas, instructions or feedback from stakeholders are required, the individual could practice summarising or rephrasing what they have heard, to check understanding. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through observation or questioning. This could involve:

  • Observing an individual listening to a verbal report and producing an accurate written summary of the situation.
  • Providing information to an individual verbally and asking them to summarise or rephrase what you have said to a third party. You could then observe whether the individual was able to do that, or question the third party to see if this was achieved.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual complete an exercise where they are required to produce a briefing report for an authority. 
  • The exercise might involve the individual receiving a briefing and then having to relay this information to a wider group in order to complete a task.

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


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