Explore Framework
News & Research
About
Contact

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 6, individuals will have to show that they can use the appropriate tone, expression and gesture in different settings. 

In the previous step, the focus was on how to speak effectively by using appropriate language – that is, the right words. This step is about the other elements that give meaning to what is said – the tone, expression and gesture.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What tone is, and how it varies. 
  • What expression is, and how it varies
  • How do gestures vary, and what is appropriate?

Reflection questions

  • What is tone, and how can it vary? 
  • Why is tone an important part of speaking?
  • What is meant by your expression?
  • How does expression affect the meaning of what someone is saying? 
  • What is meant by gesture?
  • What do we learn from the gestures someone makes?

What you need to know

What is tone?

Simply put, tone is how we say the words that we are speaking. 

We can explore this with a simple example – “you could do that better.” Without changing the words, the way that sounds and the meaning it conveys can vary a lot depending on how someone says those words. 

  • That simple sentence could sound positive – that you can do that better than someone else
  • Or it could sound exasperated – that you should have done something better, or that you doing it is a low expectation, and someone else should have done better 
  • It might sound like a question – an invitation to answer whether you think you could do it better?  
  • Or it might seem like a direct instruction – that the expectation is that you could, and now will do something better
-

How does tone vary?

It is incredible how much meaning comes from the way that something is said, rather than the words themselves. 

We can refer to this way that something is said as the tone of speaking. This tone varies by several dimensions:

  • Pitch: This about how high or low someone is speaking 
  • Tempo: How quickly someone is speaking 
  • Volume: This is how loudly or quietly someone is speaking
  • Intonation: This is about where the emphasis is placed on different words

Element

The Variation

The Effect on the listener

Pitch: How high or low someone is speaking 

Someone speaks with a high pitch

The speaker can seem stressed or anxious, which might be interpreted as lacking confidence or not being honest

Someone speaks with a low pitch

The speaker can seem calm and more confident. However, they might seem less energetic or engaged

Tempo: How quickly someone is speaking

Someone speaks quickly

The speaker can seem energetic and engaged. However, they might also seem stressed or anxious.  

Someone speaks slowly

The speaker can seem more authoritative and calm. However, if they speak too slowly, they might seem unengaged.

Volume: How loudly or quietly someone is speaking

Someone speaks quietly

The speaker can appear calm and in control if they speak quietly. However, if they speak too quietly, they might seem to be lacking in confidence. 

Someone speaks loudly

The speaker can seem authoritative if they speak loudly – it suggests that they are in control. However, if they are too loud, it can seem aggressive or angry. 

Intonation: This is about where the emphasis is placed on different words

Someone uses falling intonation – where the voice falls at the end of a phrase

The speaker sounds confident in what they are saying – perhaps they are giving an instruction.

Someone uses rising intonation – where the voice rises at the end of a phrase

The speaker sounds like they are asking a question. 

Someone uses falling and rising intonation

The speaker sounds like they are not sure about what they are saying – they are open to discussion. It can also be a way of softening a direct question. 

-

Tone in different settings

In different settings, different tone will be seen as appropriate. 

  • For example, in a workplace, your volume will be expected to be lower than, perhaps, when playing sport 
  • Different tone can come across as rude or aggressive if used wrongly
-

What is expression?

Expression is how your face communicates information as you are speaking. By moving our faces in different ways, we convey a range of emotions:

  • Joy
  • Fear 
  • Surprise
  • Disappointment
  • Trust
  • Anger 
  • Anticipation 
  • Disgust
  • Boredom 

As you read through these, you might be able to picture the facial expression which might accompany that emotion.

-

How does expression vary?

Our faces convey a lot of emotional information like this without using any words at all. There is some evidence that when listening to a speaker, people take more meaning from the expressions that accompany speaking than the words.

Because of the amount of information that our expressions give, we should pay attention to how we look – mainly because we might not want to convey that information at that time. For example, disgust, boredom, anger or fear might not be appropriate emotions to express in a particular situation.

-

What is gesture?

A gesture is a movement of the body which means something. For example:

  • An outstretched arm which is inviting someone in, or crossed arms which suggest a defensiveness. 
  • It might mean leaning forwards when speaking to show engagement, or it might be leaning backwards suggesting that you want to leave.
  • One finger raised is often used when making a point, but one finger pointing at someone suggests aggression or strong disagreement.
-

How does gesture vary?

Gestures might mean different things in different cultures.

Alongside facial expressions, gestures help to convey meaning that accompanies what you might be saying. The listener will take meaning from the combination of the words you say, the tone in which you say them, and the expression and gestures that you use while you are saying them.

While we can control our gestures when we think about them, sometimes we automatically make certain gestures without thinking about it. As with facial expressions, sometimes these will not be appropriate for the listener, or for the message that we are trying to convey. 

For example, it is hard to talk about getting excited if your facial expression and gestures suggest that you are bored and want to leave. Similarly, it is challenging to appear confident and knowledgeable if your tone, face and body all seem nervous.

-

Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can lead learners in modelling different elements of tone. For example, by repeating the same sentence (for example, “that was a big surprise”) in different tones to give it a different meaning – excited, disappointed, angry, bemused. 
  • The teacher can then lead learners in modelling how they might gesture and use facial expression when they are a range of other emotions – joyful, embarrassed, nervous and others. 
  • This can be extended into looking at other examples, and learners trying to work out how the speaker is feeling about something based on their tone, gesture or expression. 
  • This activity could be extended to working in pairs, where one learner has to convey a meaning in a simple phrase (for example, “I’ve got a lot going on at the moment”) through their tone, gesture or expression, while their partner has to guess what they are conveying. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced in several ways in the classroom. For example:

  • Before learners speak in class, they can be reminded to think about how they will use their tone, expression and gesture.
  • When learners are modelling good or bad practice, they can be reminded of how they come across.
  • When learners come back in to learn from break time or at the start of the school day, they can be told to think about how their tone, gesture and expressions might need to be different now to how they were before. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation. For example:

  • By observing over a sustained period whether learners can use their tone, expression and gestures appropriately.
  • This could also be assessed through learners speaking on a particular topic and conveying their feelings about it.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who uses verbal communication in the course of their work, particularly where they have to work with both colleagues and with clients or customers. 

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

  • Discuss why an individual might vary their tone. 
  • Explain the effects of certain variations in tone on the listener.  
  • Model varying tone to show how the meaning of the words is changed by the tone that they’re spoken with.
  • Set an exercise where two individuals take turns listening to and repeating a phrase, varying their tone in each instance. Through this an individual can become more aware of how their own tone, expression and gesture might affect a listener. This can be complemented by a reflecting on what they understood from listening to the other individual, based on their tone. 
  • Reflect with the individual about how aware they are of their tone, expression and gesture, and check-in on this regularly. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During meetings and interactions with colleagues.
  • Working with customers or clients: When having conversations with customers.

Reviewing it:

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

  • Observing whether an individual can show appropriate tone, expression and gesture in different settings. These might include, talking to colleagues informally, giving a formal presentation or pitch, and interacting with clients or customers. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual during an interview to judge how well suited their choice of body language, gesture and tone is to the situation. If there are different exercises in the assessment process, the recruiter can observe whether they are able to adapt to the setting and exercise.

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, there are many opportunities to speak or present to others, for example, a classroom discussion, an assembly, a talk on a researched topic, or student council meetings. In each situation the use of tone, expression and gesture will need to be varied according to the message you are trying to share and the reason for the talk. You may need to use strong gestures and a loud voice to encourage others on the sports field, talk with passion and enthusiasm at student council, or with authority and gentle gestures in assembly. It is important to think about your purpose and to match our gestures, tone and expression accordingly to make your speaking effective.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

When speaking to colleagues, clients or customers, care is required to ensure we use a tone, expression and gesture to match the circumstances of the situation. Fun, vibrant and loud-speaking may be appropriate at lunch break with colleagues but a more measured approach may be more appropriate when presenting new ideas to potential clients. Energy and volume need to be balanced with professionalism and competence.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

The use of inappropriate tone, expression or gestures can mean the listener misunderstands the meaning of your words. With friends, who know you well, inappropriate gestures or tone are likely to be questioned and your behaviour might be commented on. However, with people less know to you, in shops, on public transport or at sports matches and concerts, there is a need to be more aware of those around you, who many not react in a positive manner to rude, loud or inappropriate gestures and tone.

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!

  • Watch a ten minute extract of a film you have not seen before, with the sound off. Can you detect what the characters are saying from their gestures and expressions? Watch the extract again but with the sound on. How accurate were your observations and assumptions?
  • Pay a game with a friend, where you say a phrase, for example, ‘I am going to a concert on Saturday’, in as many different ways as possible and they have to guess how you feel about it, for example, excited, bored, cross. Swap places and you try to guess what your friend is feeling by the way they speak.
  • Watch two different styles of television programme, for example the national news and a chat show. Watch carefully and note the tone and gestures of each presenter. How do they differ?

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