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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 7, individuals will show that they can contribute to group decision making, whilst recognising the value of others’ ideas. 

The previous step changed the focus of Teamwork to how to contribute to group decision making. This step builds on this, thinking not just about how to add your ideas, but how to think about others’ contributions too.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Why sharing your ideas is not enough.
  • When group decision making goes wrong.
  • How to recognise the value of others’ ideas.
  • How to open your mind to other people’s ideas.

Reflection questions

  • Why is it not enough just to focus on sharing your own ideas?
  • If everyone did this, what would be the effect on group decision making?
  • Why do different people have different ideas? 
  • How can you ensure that you think about others’ ideas and recognise the value in them?
  • Do you have any experiences of this going badly or well?

What you need to know

Sharing your ideas is just the start

In the previous step, the focus was on how to contribute to a group decision-making process. To have achieved that step, you would have to show that you could contribute helpful ideas to the discussion.

However, that is only part of being an effective part of group decision making. If everyone just focused on what they were saying, then they are missing out on the other critical part of communication – listening effectively.

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Listening is vital

Listening is vital to make sure that we are making helpful additional contributions, rather than restating points that have already been made. 

However, even listening is not effective if you are not ready to expand or change your perspective based on what you have heard.

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When group decision making goes wrong

One of the causes of group decision making not working, is people being unable or unwilling to contribute their ideas. This is why the previous step was about having the confidence and skill to be able to make contributions.

However, one of the other leading causes is when everyone focuses on what they are saying and the points they want to make and fail to listen to other people. This can particularly happen when there is a lack of trust in the team, so everyone feels like they need to defend their interests and perspective.

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Collaboration over competition

Instead, a team can only make effective decisions when they move away from being competitors with each other, to being real collaborators. In this case, the success of the group is more important than who came up with the ideas, or who gets to take the most credit. 

This means being able to recognise the value of other people’s ideas.

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Recognising the value of others’ ideas

One of the great opportunities of group decision making is the chance to learn from a range of different views. It is quite possible that everyone in a group discussing a particular challenge or opportunity might start with a different perspective.

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Different perspectives

These different perspectives might come from:

  • Seeing the world differently and holding different values about what is important – this might lead to different priorities.
  • Having diverse expertise, knowledge and skills.
  • Being affected by the decision in different ways – a choice is often useful for some people but might have adverse effects for other people.
  • Having had different ideas – good ideas can come to anyone.

If we only think about our thoughts, then we miss the chance to learn from other people, and to make the best possible decision for our team.

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How to open your mind to other ideas

There are several things that we can do to be more open to valuing other people’s ideas:

  • Make the decision that you are going to listen and try to learn (this is a critical approach that is discussed a lot more in Listening).
  • Present your ideas as a perspective rather than presenting too, which makes it harder to change your mind later. You could use language like “My thinking on this was…” or “My perspective coming into this was…” or “It seems to me that…” – all of this language makes clear that you are open to changing your mind.
  • Always explain your perspective – this will encourage others to explain theirs too and will help you to see the thinking behind their ideas.
  • Actively try to understand why someone has a different view to you. What is it that is giving them a different view? This is sometimes called cognitive empathy – trying to understand where someone else is coming from.
  • Check that you are not biased against someone else’s perspective because of your biases or other forms of discrimination (see Step 5 for more on diversity and inclusion).
  • Ask questions to expand your understanding and to make sure you have had a chance to think about what someone else’s idea is, and why they have come to that idea (see Listening Step 7 for more on this).
  • See changing your mind as a strength if you can explain why you have changed your mind. People will respect you for it if you have shown that you can take on different perspectives and make an intelligent appraisal of different views.
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should introduce the topic with the open question to the learners of why is it important to value other people’s ideas? This can be linked to wider ideas about the diversity of experience, the importance of equality, and ensuring that no one is discriminated against. 
  • Learners should then be given a task to help model to them how to make sure that they are truly listening to one another and to demonstrate the value of different experiences. You could set whatever, question you like, but it should be one that can cause debate. For example, which subject should no longer be taught? Or what should we do to improve our school community? 
  • Before they start, learners should think about how they will make sure they really listen to and value the ideas of others. Some of the guidance above should be shared with them. They should be told that at the end of the exercise, they will have had to make a decision as a group and then explain how they came to it. Each individual learner should be given 1 minute to make their case, and then there will be 10 minutes for discussion. 
  • At the end of the session, reflection can help to ensure that all learners have listened to the ideas of others, been open to them and changed their thinking as a result.

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced in learning whenever there is a debate or discussion in class. Learners should be reminded to not just think about contributing their ideas but how to ensure that they are also learning from others and changing their view as a result. Visual reminders of some of the guidance above might help this process too. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a structured group activity, as outlined above. Learners have to complete an exercise that requires them to share their views, but also demonstrate that they can widen and change their perspective in response to the ideas of others.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This skill step is relevant to everyone who has the opportunity to contribute to group decision making. 

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

Model the different perspectives individuals might take on the same issue: this can help an individual to recognise how perspectives might differ. Here a manager might use a business question to highlight how different stakeholders might be affected by a decision in different ways.

Reflect with the individual on the value of these different perspectives. 

Discuss with the individual some of the ways they can open up their mind to other ideas.

Task the individual to look at different perspectives. This can be an exercise where an individual observes a discussion where group members are sharing their different perspectives on an unfamiliar topic. As the individual observes the discussion they could reflect on:

  •      Why the group members have a different perspective of on the topic being discussed?
  •      How each of the individuals present their perspectives – which were most successful and why?
  •      How group members explore the perspectives in the group?

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When we involved in a discussion with an emphasis on listening out for new perspectives, and showing that we can adapt our views accordingly. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When exploring ideas for a potential solution with a customer, with a focus on appreciating perspectives to help improve our ideas.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through observation and discussion with an individual over time. For instance:

  • A manager might have a reflective conversation an individual which is about checking how aware they are of their biases and the value of additional perspectives. 
  • A manager can check how well a person listens to other perspectives by collecting feedback from stakeholders who work regularly with that individual. In this feedback, stakeholders can report the occasions they have seen the individual recognise the value of someone else’s perspective. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual during a group decision making process. Evidence of this skill step in action can be found in the individual showing an intention to listen to the perspectives of others.

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 school or beyond we often have to work in groups on a project or activity, both in and out of the classroom: for example, a project on a topic you are studying in class, organising a social event or setting up a fundraiser. Having mastered the previous step, you will be happy to contribute to the discussions. Building on this, it is also important to really listen to the ideas and suggestions of others and be prepared to change your mind. A diverse team is likely to gather ideas and suggestions that you may never have thought of before. Your projector activity may be much improved when you encourage and value the ideas of others.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

A key feature of all workplace decision making is that all final decisions should align with the organisation’s overall goals. When we are included in a team to organise or complete a project at work it is likely to be because your manager or team leader thinks you have something positive to contribute. Making a contribution is essential but now it is also important that you are able to listen carefully and challenge the ideas of others. Your creativity may mean you see further possibilities for the suggestions made by others or you may hear an idea you have not thought of before but consider exciting.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

If you are taking part in a group activity in the wider world, it is highly likely that you are all involved out of choice and making decisions for the good of the charity, club or friends. The ability to listen to the ideas of others is essential. No one will want to work closely with someone who always thinks their own ideas are the best and is not prepared to listen carefully to others and perhaps change their mind.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Teamwork, 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!

  • Review the steps in the Listening section of the Universal Framework and remind yourself how to use open questions (Step 7) and summarising or rephrasing (Step 8) so you can actively listen in a decision making discussion and think carefully about the ideas and suggestions of other people.
  • Next time you are in a decision making group, really listen carefully to the ideas and suggestions of others. Identify one particular idea and ask several positive questions so you really understand the perspective of the speaker and why they think it will work. Give the idea serious consideration.
  • Next time you are in a decision making group, reflect on your unconscious bias and check that you are not biased against someone’s idea. Can you list all the suggestions that were made in the discussion, review which ones you gave serious consideration to, which you dismissed and check for evidence of an unconscious bias.

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