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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 8, individuals will show that they can identify real opportunities in challenging situations and then articulate them to others. 

In the previous step, the focus was on how to look for opportunities in difficult situations. This step expands on that by also thinking about how to communicate those opportunities to others.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to effectively share the positive side of a difficult situation
  • How to involve others in identifying a positive side for themselves

Reflection questions

  • What can be the risk of sharing the positive side of a difficult situation?
  • How can you avoid making the situation worse?
  • What do you need to do so that your suggestions will be well received?
  • How can involving others with identifying the positive side be helpful? 
  • How could you do this effectively?

What you need to know

Cheering others up

In Step 5 and Step 6 of this skill, we explored working with others when facing setbacks. We particularly highlighted a couple of things:

Firstly, the need to ensure that others are in the right emotional state to be able to respond appropriately to events. This means moving them out of a state of being angry, scared or upset and trying to support them to be in a more neutral place by cheering them up (See Step 5 for more).


Motivating others to keep going

Secondly, the need to focus on others’ motivation and some of the ways to boost their motivation. For instance, by focusing on what has already been achieved and other positive reinforcement.


Sharing the positive side

It is essential not to forget these previous steps, because if you do not put these building blocks in place, then you will struggle to communicate opportunities in difficult situations, as people will not be in well-placed to hear them.

If you do put these foundations in place though, then you can bring people with you to think about the opportunities. A key part of that is not to forget the negative side of the situation and acknowledging what the difficulties are. 

If you don’t do this, then people will think that you have misunderstood the reality of the situation, or that you are overly optimistic. For them to take you seriously when you present your ideas about the opportunities, they need to believe that you take the situation itself seriously first.


Helping others to accept the support

Once you do this, you can then take them through the journey that you had of thinking about what some of the positives or opportunities might be. Give them time to digest what these are because they will need the time to change their thinking from just about the negative side of the situation to taking in the positive – in the same way that it might have taken you time to make this change too.

Ultimately though, people are motivated by the idea of positive outcomes from a situation. So, if they believe that it is possible to find a positive result, even in a difficult situation, or at least make the situation slightly better, then they are likely to take you seriously.


Building a sense of ownership

Even more effective than telling people what the positive side of a difficult situation is is getting them to work this out for themselves. 

This is a common trait of humans that you might have touched on already in some of the other skills. People are more invested in an idea when they feel that they came up with it themselves – this is having a sense of ownership

When we own anything, we feel a greater sense of wanting to protect and look after it, and this is the same with ideas.


Involving others in identifying the positive side

In this case, you can work through the same approach as you did in Step 7, thinking about the negatives and positives in a situation, or the threats and opportunities in a situation. If you can do this together, though, you will find that you will probably have more ideas than you did when you just did this alone. Just as importantly, by taking part in the exercise collectively, individuals will have more of a sense of ownership over the opportunities that come out at the other end – and are more likely to act on them as a result.


Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

A positive emotional state is needed for effective learning to take place. If another student is feeling angry, scared or upset they may need help to calm down, relax or cheer up. You may be able to do this by: listening to them, reassuring them and giving them space if they need it to calm down. When working with others, you may encounter difficult situations and this can result in a negative working environment. They may need support to identify what has already been achieved to keep them motivated or a reminder of what success will look like. It helps to be reminded that they can overcome any setbacks and that others in the team are rooting for them to do so. By sharing these opportunities with others, you are more likely to successfully complete the work, assignment or project.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Sometimes in the workplace, people may find it difficult to accept the support of a colleague or a manager when they find themselves in a difficult situation. They may be embarrassed and do not wish to acknowledge the challenge they face. It is important there is someone who will be looking out for them. That person may be a colleague or a manager – someone who is willing to take time to listen, will reach out to talk with them, who will acknowledge their feelings about the situation and who will support them to see what the positives might be. If you can support them and give them time to see the opportunities available, they will have a greater sense of helping themselves. This leads to increased motivation to action any changes to improve the situation.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Difficult situations can crop up anytime, anywhere. These could be in your personal life, friendship groups or within your community. If you can aim to look for the opportunities when they do, you can be the person in any group who spreads positivity. It is important to be clear you recognise the difficulty, respect the feelings of others involved and fully understand the situation. You do not want others to think you do not take difficulties seriously or are always over optimistic. However if you are able to get the balance right, you can promote a more positive environment and get the results that everyone is aiming for.  

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!

  • Create a list of tips to advise others how they can best support someone who has found themselves in a difficult situation.
  • Look out for news articles, stories and films where characters have overcome difficult situations. Share recommendations with family and friends.
  • Spread positivity with friends, family and your community - when you encounter a difficult situation let others know what opportunities have arisen as a result.  Everyone experiences difficulties. Do not be ashamed of these. Celebrate what you have learned from these and how you overcame them.

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Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should take care when introducing this topic to be sensitive to the fact that learners are likely to have considerable variation in life experiences – some of which are likely to be much more challenging than others. 
  • It is worth spending some time to review the critical insights of Step 5 and Step 6, as these are the building blocks of being able to work with others to work through something that is a setback or challenging together.
  • Learners can then be taken through an exercise of sharing opportunities with peers from a difficult situation. This would work well as a hypothetical exercise (for example, the collapse of the gym block (without injuries)) and the positives and negatives in that situation. 
  • They could then repeat a similar exercise, but this time working as a group to develop those positives and negatives, to demonstrate how they can generate more insights by working that way. 

Reinforcing it

This is a step which can be deployed in the classroom through the objective assessment of a particular situation as a group – whether the scenario comes from geography, history, literature or any number of other subjects. This is a safer way of building learners’ confidence in being able to analyse a situation. 

It might also be expanded to group projects, working on a particular scenario. Eventually, there might be real-life occasions where it is helpful to deploy this step to analyse a situation and work through it. 

Assessing it 

This step can be observed through an assessed activity – for example, by building off subject learning when analysing the positives and negatives of a seemingly bad situation. Learners could be observed to see whether they are able to influence the group to find opportunities in a difficult situation.

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Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to individuals who encounter difficulties and share their ideas about what to do about it with others.

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

  • Discuss with an individual why it might be useful to share with others what opportunities there are in difficult situations. During this discussion, a manager can make links to the critical insights of Step 5 and Step 6, as these are the building blocks of being able to work with others through a setback or challenge. 
  • Model how to share opportunities found in difficult situations with others. To achieve this, a manager might model a hypothetical situation (for example, the collapse in demand for 2 out of 5 of a company’s products) and the positives and negatives that can be taken from that situation. 
  • Task an individual on an exercise where they can observe a group go through this process of evaluating a situation to reveal positives and negatives. This could be a simulated exercise (such as training event where a group take part in a simulation) or a real life event such shadowing a team as they evaluate an aspect of poor performance. 
  • Reflect with the individual about their confidence in being able to analyse a situation to find the opportunities. This reflective conversation can then be expanded to consider how confident an individual feels about sharing these opportunities with others.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When working through a difficulty with others, with a focus on identifying what opportunities can come out of it.
  • Working with customers or clients: When working out what potential customer opportunities there are in an unexpected situation. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • An individual can be observed through the course of a meeting that is about evaluating a situation to reveal positives and negatives. This meeting could be a simulation, part of a training exercise or a real-world event. During the meeting an individual can be observed for evidence of them influencing the group to find opportunities in a difficult situation. 
  • Alternatively, a manager might have a check-in with an individual to discuss a challenge. A manager can observe to see if an individual identifies any opportunities when considering it.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual through an assessed activity. The activity could require the individual to work in a group to analyse the positives and negatives of a challenge. Evidence of this skill step can be found in an individual influencing the group to find opportunities in a difficult situation.
  • Asking the individual for examples of when they have been able to find and share opportunities in a challenging situation.

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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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