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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 13, individuals will show that they can influence others by changing the structure of their points to be as persuasive as possible. 

In the most recent steps, the focus was on how to be an adaptive speaker, able to plan for different responses from an audience, and then being able to implement that by changing content in response to audience reactions. This step, and those that follow, focus on how to be an influence other through speaking. This starts with changing the structure of points to be more influential.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is influence 
  • How to structure our points
  • How to adapt that structure to be influential 
  • How be influential in negotiation

Reflection questions

  • What does influence mean? 
  • How can we change the structure of our points to be influential?
  • How does this relate to negotiation?
  • How can it be helpful in wider life too?

What you need to know

Introducing influence

Influence is the ability to affect, control or change something or someone. In this context, influence is about being able to change the views or actions of a listener through how you speak with them. 

We often seek to influence others so that we can achieve our goals.

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Taking listeners on a journey

When we influence, we want to take the listener on a journey with us. This means taking them through a chain of events or logic to conclude that they should do what we want them to do. Putting this in the right order is critical for getting that right.

There are three main ways of arranging ideas logically:

  • Talking about causes and effects: Making a clear connection between how one thing led to another.
  • Putting things in the order in which they happen: Putting events in the order that they occurred, also known as chronological order, makes it easier for them to remember and retell the story. 
  • Starting from the most straightforward idea: Thinking about what someone needs to understand to understand the meaning of what is being said, then beginning with the most straightforward idea and building up from there.
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Understanding whether we are being influential

The critical part of being able to influence is to have a keen awareness of whether the individual you are speaking to is coming on the journey with you. 

This means that at every stage of what you are saying, you need to be looking for confirmation that they are still with you. Some ways of checking this are expanded on in Step 10, and include:

  • Eye contact: Are your listeners looking at you? If so, this is a good sign that they are still following the story that you are taking them on, and that they are engaged.
  • Nods and smiles: Do your listeners agree with you? Nods and smiles are a good sign that your listeners are taking in what you are saying and are in agreement with you. On the other hand, shaking of heads is a good sign that they are disagreeing. 
  • Body language: Are your listeners leaning forwards? If your listener is leaning forwards, then this is another good sign that they are engaged. On the other hand, if they are leaning away or have their arms crossed, this is a sign that they are not engaged with what you are saying. 
  • Fidgeting: Are your listeners distracted? If your listeners are starting to fidget or to look at phones or other distractions, then this is a warning sign that they are losing interest and need reengaging. 
  • Verbal agreement: Are your listeners enthusiastic? This is the most apparent sign of approval and engagement from an audience.
  • Other emotional responses: Do you see the reaction you expected? At other points when speaking, you may be looking for different emotional responses – perhaps surprise, concern, or excitement if you are structuring a story. Look at your audience’s faces to see whether you are having that impact
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Adapting in response

To be influential, we need to keep checking the reactions of those who are listening to us. If we notice that we are starting to lose them, a simple process can help:

  • Do they not understand? Could you rephrase something to help provide greater clarity, or give examples to illustrate what you mean? This is particularly relevant if you are trying to share something technical or complex, that you need them to understand.
  • Do they disagree? Is it that they don’t agree with what you are saying and have disconnected from the story? If they disagree you might want to change the structure of what you are saying to go back to where you did agree, and try to reinforce the chain of logic from where you agreed to where you want them to end up. 
  • Are they losing interest? Have they run out of energy for listening? In this case, you could try to abbreviate the story that you were using or the chain of logic to pick up the pace.  

This cycle of interpreting an audience’s reaction and then adapting the structure of the points that you are making is essential for maintaining interest and taking them through the journey to being convinced by what you are saying.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should start by helping learners to reach a shared definition of what is meant by ‘influence’ and exploring the positive and negative connotations of that term.
  • The teacher can remind learners about how to put their ideas into a logical order that can be followed by their listeners and why this is an integral part of influencing.
  • However, part of being an advanced speaker is being able to gauge the reaction of an audience and using that to inform what they say. Learners could be given some of the examples of audience reaction they might see, and asked about what it might mean for how they change the points that they make.
  • Learners should then practice presenting a short talk where on a couple of occasions they are told the audience reaction has changed, and they need to adapt the points that they were going to make to re-engage the audience.
  • A reflection session at the end, once learners have had the chance to be speakers and audience members, is a helpful way of cementing understanding of this step. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced when learners have the opportunity to share their ideas in class through formal presentations. Learners could be reminded to think about their audience’s reaction and to make sure that they adapt to keep the audience engaged and to influence them to take the action they want. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through the observation of a presentation, as suggested above. This can be complemented with a reflection that can be used to gauge whether learners accurately perceived the reaction of their audiences. Then, what adjustments they made to the structure of their points as a result.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

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

  • Discuss what the individual understands by the idea of ‘influence’ and explore the positive and negative connotations of that term. 
  • Explain to an individual how to put their ideas into a logical order that can be followed by their listeners, making the point that taking the listener on a journey in this way, helps to convince them.
  • Model how to gauge the reaction of an audience and use this to inform what to say next. Here the manager might show how to follow the simple process of asking the questions laid out in the ‘adapting in response’ section above.
  • Task individuals on an exercise where they are given examples of audience reaction they might see, and ask them to describe how this might change the points that they make.
  • Reflect with the individual about the opportunities they have to practice influence both at work and outside of work.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When individuals are sharing their ideas with others – for example, delivering a presentation which makes a proposal or to persuade others of their perspective in a team meeting. 
  • Working with customers or clients: During conversations when the next action is unclear. Here, the individual can practice applying the strategies to take the listener on a journey towards agreeing an approach. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • An individual can be observed as they deliver a proposal. The focus of the observation should be to identify whether the individual is aware of the audience reaction and are adapting in response.  
  • This step can be further assessed by staging a follow-up reflective conversation. The individual might be asked how they would have restructured their points in response to a different reaction to the audience. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual during an assessed exercise where they deliver a proposal on a topic to two different audiences – each react differently to what the individual says. Evidence of this skill step would be found in the difference seen between both performances.  
  • This could be followed up with a reflective conversation where an individual is asked to describe how they adapted their speech to increase influence.

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

The opportunity to influence others in school or college can be limiting as students tend to be the listeners. However, mastery at this skill will ensure you are in demand as a speaker. The ability to read, react and respond to an audience is a very strong skill to possess as a student. The listeners may not even be aware why you have such a good reputation as a speaker, but will find they are engaged and influenced by what you say, perhaps without even realising how much you are relying on their reaction to adapt and change your content.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, the ability to influence others will place you in demand as a presenter, negotiator and representative of others. The ability to read the reactions of your listeners will ensure that you are aware of the need to adapt and change the content or order of what you are saying to re-engage or energise your listener. The ability to take a senior manager, potential client or customer on a journey and to influence them, will lead to success – new clients and customers, increased sales or even acceptance of your workplace demands.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Negotiations and the need to influence someone in the wider world can be very demanding if it is something you do not do regularly as part of our job or education. However, the ability to proactively respond to the reaction of your listeners will enable you to adapt and change your content. This could be extremely useful when negotiating the sale or purchase of a car, a house or even equipment. When seeking acceptance of anything from club membership, to charity funding or even a role as a volunteer, the skills of this step will allow you to influence others with confidence.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Speaking, 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!

  • Review the contents of this step and list all the possible reactions you may expect to see in any listeners. Can you think of more? What might each indicate? How could you try to change or adapt the content of what you are saying?
  • Think back to a time when you have been bored or disengaged by a speaker. Do you think you showed this response? Did the speaker appear to change their talk? Were you subsequently re-engaged and interested?
  • Ask a friend or colleague to role play a conversation with you where you are trying to persuade them to agree with you about something. For example, a recycling or environmental issue, a local issue, a political decision, a change in school/college/work procedures. Afterwards,discuss the process and their responses with your friend/colleague and ask for constructive feedback.
  • Volunteer for any speaking opportunities at school, college, or work.

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