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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.


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.


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.


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.


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 7, individuals will have to be able to identify where opportunities exist, even in difficult situations. 

In earlier steps, the focus was on how individuals respond to something going wrong. The focus now moves on to how to find opportunities in difficult situations.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Why opportunities exist even in difficult situations
  • How to start identifying some of those opportunities

Reflection questions

  • What do people mean when they say to ‘look on the bright side’ of something?
  • What does it mean to say ‘every cloud has a silver lining’? Can you give some examples?
  • How can you get a good view of a difficult situation?
  • How can you identify opportunities in difficult situations?

What you need to know

Looking on the bright side

We may be familiar, depending where in the world we are, with phrases like ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ or to ‘look on the bright side’ of something. What these clichés are getting at, is the idea that very few situations are so absolutely terrible that it is not possible to either make something a bit better, or to use an opportunity that has emerged.


There are always opportunities

Of course, there are certainly incidents in world history or even closer to home where it feels that a situation has been bleak. Most difficult situations we deal with in our day-to-day lives, however, are much more balanced – they might be miserable, but they are rarely catastrophic. 

On a small scale, something like missing a train might mean more time to read a book, to prepare for a meeting or to spend with friends. Being unable to get tickets to something you want to attend means you have saved some money and can use it for something else you would enjoy. An unsatisfactory test result has taught you that there is an area of your learning that you need to focus on more. 

More widely, there are often upsides to a situation, but we need to understand that situation a bit better first.


Understanding positive and negative sides of a situation

In order to find the opportunity in a situation, we have to first try to really understand the situation and what has happened. 

We then want to understand what the positive and negative sides of that situation are.

If we are dealing with an existing situation, then we can force ourselves to think about both what the positive and negative sides are. If you are feeling upset, then it is easy to feel that there is only a negative side to the situation. However, over time you might begin to see some positives. It is worth writing these as two lists, side by side:



What is good about this situation – this is likely to be harder to write

What is bad about this situation – this is likely to be easier to write


Taking yourself out of the situation

To do this, it is sometimes helpful to try to take yourself out of a situation, and imagine that you are there as an observer. This helps to put some separation between you and the emotional response you have to the events. You could ask yourself the question, if I was someone else, what would I tell me were the positives in this situation?


Identifying opportunities and threats

Alternatively, we might be dealing with a situation that is not yet fixed, but is still unfolding. In this case, we have to think slightly differently. We cannot just think in terms of positives or negatives, but we can think in terms of threats and opportunities. Threats are things that might happen with negative effects, whereas opportunities are things that might happen with positive effects. 

Again, writing these down side-by-side is a good way of forcing a balanced approach to thinking about these:



Things that might happen with positive effects

Things that might happen with negative effects


Achieving a positive outcome

Having identified the positives or negatives in a situation, or the opportunities and threats, we can choose to focus on the positives or the opportunities. This means thinking about not just how to avoid the negatives or threats, but how we can take action to achieve a positive outcome for ourselves. 

As with much of staying positive, the crucial part is deciding to do so.


Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

Speaking to our teachers, tutors, lecturers or coaches about how we are feeling will be helpful when something has gone wrong with our learning or when we are finding our learning difficult. They will be keen to help us. They will want to understand the situation. It is important to separate the emotional response we might have to finding something difficult with the actual difficulty we are having. For example, we might feel disappointed that we did not score highly on a recent test and anxious because we did not understand the new concept we had only recently been taught. Looking for the positives that might come out of this disappointing situation might sound strange, but now both student and teacher know more time is needed to really understand the new concept. This might mean some extra focus on it in a lesson or revising in more detail so that it is fully understood and future test results improve.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In all workplaces there may be potential for something to go wrong. This might be when the business or organisation is trying a new approach or initiative. It could be that they are trialing a new service or way of manufacturing a product which may not be as successful as expected. Employers and their employees often have to consider the opportunities and threats in this type of situation. For example, adding a new service to a company’s offer might attract new customers but it could also mean that other services are not given as much time. When looking for opportunities in difficult situations, it is important to not just think about how to avoid the threats, but how they can take action together to achieve a positive outcome for their business or organisation. 

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

When dealing with an existing situation it is always worth thinking about both the positive and negative sides of the difficulty. Sometimes it is helpful to take yourself out of the situation and imagine the situation is happening to someone else. For example, if a friend shared a difficulty they had been facing, what advice might you give to them? This can separate you and your emotional response to the difficult event so you are more likely to be able to see some positives or opportunities available. As with much of Staying Positive, the crucial part is deciding to do so.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Staying Positive, 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!

  • Actively listen to the lyrics of songs. Create a playlist of songs and music that encourage the listener to see the positives in even difficult situations.
  • Gather writings, poetry, sayings and art that encourage you to find the positives in difficult situations. You can return to these when you need to stay positive.
  • Whenever a difficult situation occurs look for both the positives and the negatives. You may find writing them down or recording them on a device helpful. Create three lists: the negatives, the positives and the opportunities. Focus on making the opportunities column the longest!

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Advice for


Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should start by being sensitive about setting the context for learners around this step. The difficult situations that learners have faced in their own lives are likely to be extremely varied across a group, and it is important to be sensitive to that fact and to make learners aware of that possibility.
  • This step can be explored through discussion, asking learners to reflect on the notion that there can be a positive side to tricky situations and asking them to draw on examples from their own lives if they wish to contribute them. The teacher can model this with some examples from their own lives too. 
  • The critical point to emphasise is the importance of being able to try to take an objective view of a situation by trying to get some distance between the reality and their emotional response to it. 
  • Different examples can be used for learners to think about the positive and negative, or opportunities and threats that arise from them. They could do this in groups initially, and then work individually once they have had a chance to build their understanding. 

Reinforcing it

This step is one that can be reinforced in several ways in a school setting. For example, when discussing difficult situations in history, geography or literature, learners could be encouraged to think not just about the negatives or threats, but also the positives or opportunities. This is particularly helpful because it can lend itself to more dispassionate analysis.

There will also be setbacks for individual learners, and here a coaching role can support learners to identify for themselves what some of the opportunities or positives are in situations, and focus on those. 

Assessing it 

This step can be assessed through an exercise – for example, giving the learners a situation to analyse to draw out the positives and negatives in it. 

There may also be an element of assessment through observation, where learners can discuss a particular setback or difficult situation and the positives that they can identify in that situation.

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Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to people who encounter difficult situations at work, and have the scope to look for new opportunities. 

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

  • Discuss with the individual the notion that there can be a positive side to difficult situations, drawing on appropriate work-based examples. When setting up this discussion, the manager should be mindful that the difficult situations individuals have faced in their own lives are likely to be extremely varied across a group.
  • Model how to identify the positive side of difficult situations by sharing some examples from their own lives.
  • Task an individual to think about the positive and negative, or opportunities and threats that arise from different example scenarios. 
  • Reflect with an individual on the importance of taking an objective view of a situation by trying to get some distance between the reality and their emotional response to it. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When working in difficult situations with others, and looking for new opportunities for the organisation. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When working out what potential customer benefits there are when a situation that didn’t go as planned.    

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through discussion and reflective conversation with an individual. For example, a manager might discuss an existing situation with an individual to find out if they can identify the positives and negatives in it. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual during an assessed exercise. During this exercise, an individual can discuss a particular setback or difficult situation and the positives that they can identify in that situation.

Build this step

Advice for


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.

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Advice for

Parents & Carers

At home, you can easily support your child to build their essential skills. The good news is that there
are lots of ways that you can have a big impact, including:

  • Talking with your child about the essential skills, what they are and how they are useful in all
    aspects of life, whether at school, home or in the workplace
  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own work or wider life
  • Helping your child to identify where they already build their skills at school, at home or
    through other activities and clubs
  • Praising your child when they show they are using the skills well, and helping them to feel a
    sense of achievement
  • Encouraging them to recognise and talk confidently about their skill strengths with others, and
    supporting them to develop their skills further

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