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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 explore problems by analysing the pros and cons of possible solutions.  

In the previous step, individuals developed the idea that there are some problems where there is not always one obvious answer and that there might be several possible answers or solutions. In this step, the focus is on how to be able to choose between those possible answers by thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to identify the pros and cons of possible answers for complicated problems
  • How to evaluate the pros and cons to help make a decision

Reflection questions

  • What is meant by pros and cons?
  • Why can it be helpful to use these on complicated problems?
  • How can you use pros and cons to make a decision?
  • What mistakes do people sometimes make?

What you need to know

Complicated problems

Complicated problems are those that do not have one obvious answer or solution – there are a range of possible answers or solutions. That does not mean that we can’t reach a ‘best answer’ though.

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Pros and cons

When we are thinking through the different possible answers or solutions, we have to find some way of choosing between them. One of the simplest approaches to this is to think about:

  • The Pros: this is the positive side of a possible answer or solution which could also be called the advantage of the solution.  
  • The Cons: this is the negative side of a possible answer or solution, also known as the disadvantage of the solution
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Identifying pros and cons

As an example, we might decide that the complicated question we want to answer is how to travel on our holiday.

We can make a list of different options – we might choose to fly, to take the train or to drive, for example. This is a complicated problem because there is no one easy answer, but we should be able to get to the best solution for us. 

For each of those options, we can then identify the pros and cons. For example:

  • For flying, the pros might include the speed, a reasonable cost, and some comfort. The cons would be the environmental impact, not being able to take heavy luggage.
  • For driving, the pros might include being able to control the time you leave and when you stop, being able to pack some of what you want to take, and a lower environmental impact than flying. The cons might be the effort of driving and the much lower speed. 
  • For taking the train, the pros might include being faster than a car, being able to relax, not having a long check-in time, and lower environmental impact. The cons might be the cost, limited baggage, and not being as fast as flying. 

Other examples of complicated problems include things like building a house, navigating a long drive, or deciding how much money to save. All of these are complicated, but we can get to the best answer for us.

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Using pros and cons to make a choice

The simplest way of using pros and cons is just to make a list of each and then to see which possible solution has the most pros and the fewest cons to it. 

The problem with this approach is that it presumes that all pros or cons are equally important. In reality, we might care a lot more about some things than others.

Looking at our travel example from before:

  • If you care a lot about the environment, then the environmental impact might be the factor that you care about more than anything else. So, in this case you would choose to travel by train because it has the lowest environmental impact.
  • However, if you need to get somewhere quickly, or in an emergency, then you care more about speed than anything else. In this case, you would choose to fly because that is the fastest option.
  • In another situation though, you might be trying to get there as cheaply as possible, and so you would pick whichever option is the cheapest – probably driving if you already have access to a car. 

We can see then, that pros and cons can help us to understand what the advantages and disadvantages are of different potential solutions to complicated problems but to make the right choice we need to know what we care about most.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can model what sort of problems are complicated problems. It should be made clear that these are different to simple problems where there usually is one correct answer of what to do. Remember that complicated problems differ from complex problems which are characterised by being much less predictable and where there are interdependencies between different parts of a system. We will explore these in the next step.  
  • The teacher can model some examples of complicated problems where there might be various possible solutions and generate the pros and cons of each solution. It can then be shown how to choose between different options based on what one cares about most.
  • This can be extended to learners working in pairs to generate a range of possible solutions to a complicated problem. They can then create the pros and cons of each, and then present their preferred solution, justifying their choice. This would work well if it could be linked to other current subject learning. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be effectively reinforced in the classroom, as complicated problems are often presented to learners. The key thing is to encourage learners to follow the structured process of generating the range of solutions and then using pros and cons to choose between them. They will often try to shortcut this process, so reinforcing following each step is critical for them to secure this step. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a structured activity. For example:

  • The learners can be posed a complicated problem where they have enough prior knowledge to be able to grapple with the content matter.
  • Ask them to come up with a range of solutions and then use the pros and cons of each to reach a justified choice of solution.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to most individuals, especially those who solve complicated problems in their work. 

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

  • Explain to an individual what pros and cons are to help an individual understand the concepts and apply the technique.
  • Model how to use pros and cons to evaluate an option. Here, a manager might show how to weight some pros and cons differently to reflect their value. 
  • Task an individual to take part in an exercise to draw up a list of possible pros and cons about a possible solution to a complicated problem.
  • Reflect with the individual about what they care about most in a solution.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During meetings with colleagues where a group might choose from a number of possible solutions to a complicated problem. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When choosing a solution to service a customer request or enquiry. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • Observing an individual in decision-making meetings where they select a solution out of a number of different options. Evidence that the individual has considered the possible pros and cons of each solution can be gathered by asking the individual to explain the rationale behind their choice.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • A simulation exercise where individuals have to show they can come up with a solution to a complicated problem. 
  • Questioning the individual to check they understand what is meant by the pros and cons of a solution. 
  • This might be achieved by asking an individual to describe a time they have assessed the pros and cons of a solution. Their reply could be checked to see if it is consistent with the best practice outlined above

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

Why this skill step matters in education

When faced with a complicated problem in education, one that does not have one obvious answer or solution, it is important we feel confident we have a reliable way of choosing the best one. Identifying the pros and the cons is one trusted way of doing this. You might have an assignment due in soon as well as a presentation to deliver in the same week. When considering how to split your time preparing for them, it might be worth thinking about what you already know, the research you might still need to do and how much each is worth for your final grade. In education you may need to work through the pros and cons of possible solutions you have come up with in order to make a decision you feel most comfortable and confident with.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Being ready, willing and able to explore a range of solutions and consider the pros and cons is useful in all work places when problems arise. A team of colleagues may have created a number of possible solutions to a complicated problem and have listed the pros and cons for each one. The idea, or possible solution with the greatest number of pros and the fewest cons might be considered the best solution. However, sometimes pros and cons are not equally important. A business might care more about one thing than another. For example, an organisation may be looking to reduce what it spends on employee travel, so supporting them to work from the office or home rather than travelling to meet customers might be more important to them than using trains because they are more environmentally friendly.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Using the pros and cons method can certainly help us to explore the advantages and disadvantages of potential solutions in our daily lives. When choosing a holiday destination, there might be a range of options but you can only afford to visit one country. Or you might be considering a gift for a friend’s important birthday. It is important when considering the pros and cons that we know what matters most to us or those around us when we are making the decision.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Problem Solving, 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!

  • What are the pros of travelling by car? What are the cons?
  • When you have a complicated problem: Try listing the pros and cons for any solutions you can think of. Talk with a trusted family member or friend about your ideas to help you work out which solution will be best for you.

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