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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 understand that they need to consider the language that they are using when speaking and choose appropriate language to the setting.

Previously, in Steps 3 and 4, the focus was on speaking effectively by making points in a logical order and thinking about what listeners already knew. This Step builds on this, but focuses on the way that someone is speaking. This theme continues in Step 6, which introduces tone, expression and gesture too.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is meant by language and how it varies
  • How to judge what language is appropriate in different settings

Reflection questions

  • How does the language we use change in different settings?
  • What are some examples of different language that give us a clue as to how formal or informal it is? 
  • Thinking about the three broad types of language (formal, informal and technical), which do you think is appropriate in what setting? 
  • Why do you think it is vital to get this right?

What you need to know

Language and how it varies

There are lots of ways to communicate the same meaning. The words that we choose to say to communicate something give the language that we are using. 

There are three broad types of language that we can consider:

  • Informal: This is relaxed language, where we might be speaking to friends outside of school or in the playground. We might use slang or speak in a jokey way. We can use this because there is a shared understanding of what we mean that might be particular to those relationships. 
  • Formal: This is ‘speaking properly’. We would avoid using slang or speaking in a jokey way. Instead, we use full sentences, using conjunctions, and more sophisticated vocabulary. This way of speaking can be understood much more widely, and so we can use it in lots of different settings.
  • Technical: This is advanced language that we might use when working closely with someone where we have shared expertise. For example, two plumbers or lawyers or teachers might be able to use language, abbreviations or acronyms with each other that would not make any sense in the wider world. This way of speaking works well for people who share that technical understanding, but it is impossible to understand if you don’t.
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Choosing the right language for the setting

It is crucial to select the right language for the setting so that those people who are listening to you have the best chance of understanding what you are telling them.

  • It would feel strange to use formal language with your friends, although they would comprehend you. They might not follow you if you start using unfamiliar technical language.
  • Similarly, many people would feel uncomfortable being spoken to informally by someone who they did not know well. They might be confused about what their relationship is with you, or think that you were unrespectful towards them.
  • Finally, anyone who does not have the same sort of technical expertise as you would find it very hard to follow technical language, and might feel that they were looking foolish if they couldn’t understand what you were saying. 

In summary:

  • Informal language: For friends and people you know well
  • Formal language: For most people and settings, and people you don’t know
  • Technical language: For speaking to others with shared technical expertise
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher could give examples of different types of language and ask the learners to identify which they are using.
  • They could then ask the learners to practice how they would talk about the same subject using those three different types of language – informal, formal and technical 
  • This idea can be reinforced by asking learners to give a talk targeted at different audiences, giving them the chance to practice various types of language 

Reinforcing it

This step can be practised within the classroom setting:

  • For example, the teacher can model how to explain a concept using informal, formal and technical language. Learners could then be encouraged to explain a concept using different language – which both reinforces this step and their subject knowledge.
  • Teachers can also identify when learners are using different types of language when they speak in class to raise awareness of how language changes depending on whether they are talking to their friends, sharing an idea, or providing a technical answer. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a simple testing activity or through observation. For example:

  • Learners could listen to different clips of speech and encouraged to identify which type of language is used. 
  • A teacher can observe learners over a period to see whether they can appropriately modify the language they are using according to the setting.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to everyone who uses verbal communication often in their work, especially those who regularly offer explanations or instructions, and those who have to work with both customers or clients, and colleagues. 

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

  • Discuss with the individual why we change language based on the setting we are in
  • Explain which language types are appropriate for which settings 
  • Model an inappropriate language choice in action and ask an individual to describe its effect, to help them develop their understanding 
  • Set an exercise for individuals to practice selecting the right language for the right setting. This might include telling individual some information in a informal setting and helping prepare to retell this in a formal setting
  • Reflect with the individual about how often the use each of the language types in the course of their work 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During everyday interactions with colleague when deciding what language to use to sharing ideas and intentions 
  • Working with customers or clients: When using verbal communication to service customer queries or requests, especially when explaining information or concepts to them

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through conducting a series of observations.

For instance:

  • Observing to understand how an individual varies their language. To measure this, an observer might count how many how many instances of formal, informal and technical language an individual display across 5 speaking occasions. 

To assess this skill step an observer might collect feedback from customers or colleagues reporting how frequently they are confused or made uncomfortable by the language used by an individual.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual as they respond to questions during technical interviews to identify how well they vary their language. To further assess this step an individual could be asked to retell their answers to a non-technical audience to identify how well an individual can choose language appropriate for the right setting.
  • Directly asking an individual about how they modify their language depending on the audience.

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 education, we will be required to use informal, formal and technical language. When speaking with friends, at lunchtime and break, we are likely to use informal language in our conversations, as we know each other well and understand what each other are talking about. However, we will use more formal vocabulary when speaking to senior staff. If speaking in assembly or giving a presentation, we are more likely to use formal language. It is important to be aware of the difference and to use the appropriate one for each situation.

In some subjects, Maths and Science particularly, we may use a language that is understood because we have studied it in lessons, for example, the names for chemical processes or mathematical calculations.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

When chatting with colleagues in the workplace we are likely to use informal language and an element of technical language, if we do similar work. You may have a good friendship with people you work with, have worked with them a long time and know each other well, which is why an informal language, easily understood by all will be appropriate. However, when speaking to your manager, clients or customers a more formal language will be more appropriate and expected. Technical language can be difficult to understand if the people you are speaking to are not familiar with the terms, care must be taken not to use abbreviations which maybe unfamiliar.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In our social lives we tend to spend time with friends, taking part in activities for enjoyment and interest. We will often use informal language during these situations. However, there will be occasions when it will be more appropriate to use a more formal language, for example meeting a bank manager, tax officer or someone in an official capacity. Being too informal in such circumstances risks a negative reaction from the listener.

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!

  • Imagine that your Headteacher or Principal asked you about your weekend. How would you answer that question? Now think about how you would answer if your best friend asked you the same question? What was different about the second answer? Why?
  • Watch a news broadcast on television or internet. What evidence is there that the speaker is using a formal language?
  • Make a list of informal or slang words you would use when talking to a friend that you would change if speaking to an adult you do not know well, for example, ‘Hi’ to ‘Hello’ or ‘See ya’ to ‘Goodbye’.
  • Watch a favourite film or read a favourite book. Can you identify any situations where the speaker is using informal language? Formal language? In each case, who were they talking to? Why did the language differ?
  • Watch an internet talk by a scientist. Watch for the first five minutes. Did you understand all the language? Why not? Can you remember any of the technical words?

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