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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 9, individuals will show that they can adapt their plans in response to challenging situations to keep going. 

In the two previous steps, the focus was on how to identify opportunities in difficult situations – first as an individual, and then in the context of working with others. This step builds on these by introducing the need for action as a result of this analysis.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to review a situation to find the positives and negatives
  • How to adapt plans to make the most of those opportunities and avoid threats

Reflection questions

  • How can we make sure we fully understand a difficult situation?
  • What do we need to think about if we’re going to change our plans as a result? 
  • How can we use our understanding of ourselves and the situation to adapt our plans?
  • What should we change, and what should remain the same?

What you need to know

Looking on the bright side

In Step 7 and Step 8, we looked at how to try to identify opportunities in the middle of difficult situations. We saw how there are almost always positive sides to events, or at least things to do to make a difficult situation slightly better. We also saw that it is possible to help other people spot those opportunities too, if we are careful about how we take them through that journey with us.

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SWOT analysis

If we are going to be adapting our plans, we must get as full a view of a situation as possible. One tool that we will also see in Aiming High Step 13 is called a SWOT analysis, which stands for:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses 
  • Opportunities
  • Threats
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Strengths and weaknesses

The first two elements are about us, or our team, or our project so far. It is about taking an internal perspective on what we are already good at. We can identify strengths as those things that are going well, or that we are good at doing. Weaknesses are those areas which are not going so well, or which we do not feel we are as good at doing, or perhaps that we have less experience in doing.

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Opportunities and threats

The final two elements are about the situation that we are in. These are about taking the external perspective on the situation – both identifying the opportunities and also the threats.

When we think about adapting our plans, it is valuable to take the time to have both the internal and external perspectives. Always remember, that you can ask other people for their ideas and suggestions too – someone who is outside of the situation might have a clearer view on it than someone who is in the middle of it.

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Focusing on the end goal

If we are adapting our plans, we are assuming that there were already plans in place for what you wanted to do. These might be extensive plans for a big project, or rougher plans for a smaller undertaking. 

In either case, we want to start by reminding ourselves of what we are trying to do and what we are trying to achieve. If we are in a situation of adapting plans, it is particularly important that we don’t lose sight of what the goal of the activity is. 

For example, a postal strike might disrupt you sending a gift to a friend or relative for their birthday. However, you have to remember that the goal is to make that person know that you are thinking of them and appreciate them on their birthday – and there might be lots of other ways to do that, from a thoughtful phone call or a visit to arranging something nice for you to do together in the future.

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Adapting plans

Once we are clear on our goal, or goals, from what we are doing, then we can think about how we can change our plans to adapt to a difficult situation. This is where we can bring out the threats and opportunities this gives us. For example, the postal strike means that we can’t send a physical present or gift, but the opportunity is that we can use that time and effort to arrange something nice to do, and that we save some money that we can use on something else. 

We can then go back to the strengths and weaknesses we identified for ourselves. If a strength is that you and the relative have a shared love of art, or dance, or music, then you could think of something you could do together to share that thing you enjoy. If you have a talent for creativity, you could make them something. However, if these were weaknesses, then best to be avoided.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can start by reminding learners about some of the building blocks that have got them to this stage, particularly the need to manage one’s emotional response to be able to look at a situation objectively and to be able to see opportunities. This could be reviewed as a class discussion.
  • The concept of thinking about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats can then be introduced as a useful tool for taking internal and external perspectives. The group could complete one analysis together of a particular situation – ideally one where all learners have enough context to be able to contribute meaningfully. 
  • Using this insight, learners could think about how they would recommend that someone adapts their plans accordingly. You might want to draw on other subject learning here – for example, thinking about a historical event, a scenario in literature, or a development challenge in geography. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced in the classroom setting, and also applied to learners’ own efforts – for example, when working on a project or preparing for examinations or similar. It can also be used as a tool to support analysis of difficult situations that learners might encounter when studying other subjects and they should be encouraged to think of ways that the plans of the protagonists could be adapted to respond to a difficult situation. 

Assessing it 

This step can be assessed through a reflection if learners are applying their skills to a particular project. The reflection could be discursive, or it could be a written reflection from learners themselves.

Alternatively, learners could complete an analysis of a situation from their studies and use this to propose how plans of the protagonist should adapt in response to that situation.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to individuals who work through difficult situations and are in a role that involves planning.

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

  • Discuss with the individual why it is important to manage an emotional response in order to look at a situation objectively and to be able to see opportunities.
  • Model a process to show how to adapt plans to seize opportunities. Here, a manager could first demonstrate how a SWOT analysis can be used to identify internal and external perspectives. When modelling, a manager can emphasize the importance of clarity on the goals before attempting to adapt plans. 
  • Task individuals to follow the same process to analyse the situation, providing an opportunity for them to practice applying the techniques.
  • Reflect with the individual about how successful they were during the exercise of adapting plans. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During collaborations with a colleague where a difficult situation arises and focusing on adapting plans in response.
  • Working with customers or clients: When we need to think about new ways of meeting a client or customer need.

Reviewing it:

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

  • If an individual is currently facing a difficult situation in their work, this step can be assessed through reflection. Here a manager might ask check in with an individual and ask reflection questions to check for evidence of this skill step in action. Evidence of this skill step in action might include: signs the individual has revealed opportunity through a careful analysis of a situation or signs which suggest new plans are informed by an awareness of primary goals. Reflection questions listed in the above section can help with this.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual as they take part in an assessed exercise. The exercise could be a simulation where the individual is presented with a scenario. The exercise might task an individual to recommend what adaptions should be made to an existing plan. The individual could write down what adaptions could be made and these written reflections can be reviewed to check for evidence of the skill step in action.

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

If you find yourself in a difficult situation when you are learning it is a good idea to think about why. Ask yourself what you can do to improve the situation. You may need to change your plan or do something in a different way. For example, a student who is finding it difficult to remember new key vocabulary for a particular subject could create flashcards of the new words and their definitions and place them around their home so they see them more, rather than just have them in a notebook or folder. They might also make sure they arrive a little early for a class so that they can speak to their teacher, tutor or lecturer to let them know they are finding something difficult and ask for any further ideas to help the new learning stick with them. There is always something you can do to help yourself and make the situation better.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Many businesses and organisations regularly seek to improve the way they work. They may wish to improve their products and communications with colleagues and customers, or they may wish to stay up to date with sector trends, seeking to be more efficient and effective. Adapting plans can happen often in a workplace. As an employee or with colleagues, you may do a SWOT analysis to ensure there is a full understanding of the situation before choosing how to adapt or change the plan. It is important to have a good understanding of the situation as well as what is important and beneficial to the business. You should not lose sight of what is trying to be achieved when adapting plans and making changes.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Looking for opportunities in difficult situations will enable you to feel more positive in challenging times. Changing plans does not have to be a negative. For example, you may be unable to go on holiday to a certain destination which you had been looking forward to for some time. However, you may choose a new destination and have a very memorable trip and learn new things. Whenever life seems to throw an obstacle in your way, if you can look for the positives, you will feel better about the situation. Not only will your own emotional and mental health benefit, but also that of those around you.

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!

  • Carry out a SWOT analysis when faced with a difficult personal decision. You may be deciding on which college or university to study at, where to live in a new area or on a venue to hold an important family occasion.
  • When making plans, for example for a get together with family or friends – have a ‘Plan B’ in case ‘Plan A’ cannot happen. Be focussed on your end goal and adapt plans as necessary whilst remaining positive.
  • Have a ‘if I can’t do X’, I’ll do Y’ strategy when planning your time. That way, if you cannot complete a task, you will not feel your time has been wasted. You can still feel positive you have achieved something at the end of each day.

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