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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 4, individuals will show that they have considered what their listeners already know when they are speaking. 

In Step 3, individuals focused on how to speak effectively by making points in a logical order. Step 4 builds on this by considering what listeners already know, so what they say is pitched at the right level.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Why what your listeners already know matters
  • How to build on what listeners already know when you are speaking

Reflection questions

  • Why is it helpful to know what your listeners already know before you speak?
  • What would happen if your listeners understand less than you expect?
  • What if they know more than you expect?
  • How can you find out what listeners already know?
  • How can you use this understanding?

What you need to know

What it means to be an effective speaker

Being an effective speaker is about being able to share ideas and build understanding in your listeners. Therefore, good speaking means thinking about how best to help your listeners to understand you.

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Assumptions we make about our listeners

When we speak, we all have a view on what our listeners already know – we might call this an expectation or an assumption. For example:

  • When we talk about other people, we change how we talk about them depending if our listeners know them or not. We would explain who the people are if they don’t know – or just use their names if they do know them.
  • When we use technical language or acronyms, we are assuming that listeners understand what they are. If we do this without thinking, it is possible for listeners to become confused quickly. 
  • When we talk about events, we might give our opinion or perspective – but this is of no use if the listener does not know anything about the event.
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If our assumptions aren't accurate

If the listeners understand less than we assume:

  • They might quickly become lost and unable to follow the meaning of what you are saying. For example, technical language will make no sense to someone who has not be taught it or used it. 
  • Or they might misunderstand what you are saying without realising that they have not understood.

On the other hand, if listeners understand more than we assume:

  • They might quickly become bored and disinterested because lots of the explanation they are hearing is evident to them. 
  • When they become disinterested, they stop listening to what else is said.

As a result, it is crucial to think about what listeners already understand so that what you are saying is targeted at just the right level – not too simple and not too complicated.

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Ways to check our listeners' understanding

If you are not sure about what listeners already know, you can ask some simple questions to help work it out. 

  • These might be simple, closed questions – for example, “Do you know David?” or “Have you been following the election?” to help work out what people already know.
  • For more complicated concepts, you might ask more open questions which encourage a fuller response. For example, “What do you already know about the Tudors?” or “What have you seen about the events in France?”
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How to build on what listeners already know

Once you know how much they know, you can change how you talk, to make sure you don’t repeat information they already have.

  • For example, you might choose to introduce individuals that you are talking about, or you might put events in the context of when or where they happened.

If you cannot tell whether you are managing to target what you are saying at the right level, then you can always ask little checking questions as you go.

  • For example, “Am I making sense?” or “Am I giving too much detail?” or “Would it be helpful if I explained a bit more about that?”
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can model what it looks like to talk at the wrong level. For example, the teacher might start by talking about a complex scientific idea and then ask the learners what they learnt. Then the teacher could go to the other extreme and talk about something very introductory at great length – for example, how to put their coats on. 
  • The learners can then practice this themselves using different ideas. For example, talking about someone or somewhere that their audience doesn’t know as if they did, before explaining something straightforward or that they already know. 
  • In reflection, they can think about what they should have done differently to make their examples appropriate for the listeners, based on what the listeners already knew.
  • This exercise can be extended to give learners topics to talk about, having first taken the time to think about what their listeners already know. They can also try using some of the questioning to build that understanding.
  • The learners can practice delivering these talks and getting feedback about whether it is pitched at the right level.

Reinforcing it

This is a step that can be easily reinforced in the classroom setting. For example:

  • When learners speak in class, they can be reminded by the teacher to think about what the listeners already know.
  • Similarly, the teacher can model how when they teach something, they think about what the learners already know, to make sure that what they are saying is not too easy and not too complex. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation of interaction in the classroom. For example:

  • The teacher can observe the learners over some time to see whether their explanations are pitched at the right level.
  • This could also happen in a designed exercise where learners are given suggestions of speaking topics. They can be encouraged to use the questioning to work out the right level to pitch what they are talking about too.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to everyone who uses verbal communication regularly in their work, especially those who use it to build or put forward ideas.

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

  • Discuss with an individual why it is important to consider what the audience knows before speaking. A manager might use some of the reflection questions to support this.
  • Explain how an individual’s speech can change depending on the assumptions or expectations they hold about the listener. A manager might provide some examples, such as the inclusion of technical language because of an assumption that listeners know what they are, to demonstrate this point.
  • Model some of the techniques to build on what the listeners know already, to show an individual how to pitch their language at the right level.
  • Set an exercise for an individual to retell information to an audience, requiring them to apply techniques to help them understand how to pitch this information.
  • Reflect with the individual about the process they went through during this activity, to identify how they found out what their audience already knew, and adapted what they said accordingly. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During meetings with colleagues, presentations or when giving instructions or updates. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When explaining ideas or information to customers or clients.    

Reviewing it:

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

  • Observing how the individual interacts with others, and whether they are able to gauge what their audience already knows. This could be in a range of contexts, from a small team meeting or discussion, to a formal presentation or pitch. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Listening to an individual present to an audience during an assessed exercise, or asking them to explain something.

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

In school or college, we sometimes have to talk to others about a topic which we may have been studying in class or on our own. When the class has studied the topic together, everyone is likely to be at a similar place in terms of understanding and you will be aware of what your classmates already know. However, you may be asked to talk about a hobby or interest, something which you know lots about but others may have no experience or knowledge. Building a clear understanding of what the listeners already know will be more important in the second situation. Others will be more interested and keener to learn if it is set at a level which stimulates interest rather than overwhelms or confuses them.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, colleagues often have a specialist language which can be understood by many people in the same organisation. However, when speaking with others outside that workplace, extra care has to be taken not to assume they have an understanding of specific terms, people or events. Explanation of a term can provide the listener with a clear understanding, particularly where they have a similar knowledge but perhaps use different vocabulary.

In sales and marketing, particular care has to be taken to start from a point of customer knowledge as the listener will soon be bored and the sale lost, if the customer is not engaged by the speaker.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In the wider world, we may be called upon to explain our interests, how to do something, or chat in our general conversation with others about recent experiences and activities. When speaking in each of these situations it would be easy to cause disinterest or boredom if something was so basic and already understood by the listener. In much the same way, talking in detail about a specific interest, at too high a level, with associated language, may frustrate and disengage a listener unfamiliar with your topic.

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!

  • Try explaining a hobby or game to a younger sibling or friend who does not know the game or activity. What was the impact? Did you manage to keep their interest throughout the explanation? If not, why not?
  • Try explaining something you have learned at school/college/work this week to a parent or older family friend. How can you find out what they already know about the subject? Do you manage to hold their interest and explain your topic clearly?
  • On the internet, find a talk by a specialist or expert in a topic or field where you have no experience or expertise. Do you understand what they are talking about? Think about your reaction and behaviour. Would the speaker know you were struggling to understand? How?
  • Ask a parent or family friend to explain a hobby or interest they enjoy. Did they ascertain what you know already? Was the talk too basic or pitched just right? Did they ask you any questions? Do you feel that they gained an understanding of how much you already knew about the subject?

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