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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 avoid unhelpful conflicts. 

This step marks a shift away from contributing to the team, to thinking more actively about how to make the team as effective as possible. This starts by not creating unhelpful conflicts.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is an unhelpful conflict
  • How to avoid unhelpful conflicts

Reflection questions

  • What is an unhelpful conflict?
  • How is conflict different to disagreement?
  • How can unhelpful conflicts be avoided?
  • Do you have any examples of having managed this?

What you need to know

Disagreements and conflicts

Disagreement is often an important part of a team coming to a better decision about what they should do, and the actions that they should take. (See Teamwork Step 8)

This is very different though to conflict.

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Unhelpful conflicts

A conflict is an extended disagreement which grows into a more significant clash and can be destructive over time. Individuals descend into a negative cycle of conflict as they:

  • Lose trust in one another. 
  • No longer see themselves as having compatible goals – if one wins, the other must be losing.
  • Stop cooperating with one another.
  • Start actively seeking to undermine one another.

The result is that effective teamwork can't flourish: our definition of teamwork, if you recall, is working cooperatively with others towards a shared goal.

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What causes conflicts?

Conflicts can start from several different places, and can often be quite minor before they escalate and become very destructive. Some common causes of conflict include:

  • Different views, for a range of reasons including diverse perspectives, experiences, knowledge or skills. 
  • Feelings that people have been rude or disrespectful. 
  • Shortages of resources.
  • A sense of unfairness about the allocation of tasks and the level of effort required.
  • Differences in how different team members are recognised or rewarded.
  • Limited opportunities.
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How we can avoid causing conflicts

We can all help to avoid conflicts starting in the first place:

  • We can apply the principles of encouraging and valuing a diverse range of perspectives when working in a group (see Step 6, Step 7 and Step 8).
  • We can stay focused on the task, rather than the other individuals.
  • We can be polite to everyone, even people we do not naturally get on with – perhaps because we have very different styles or views.
  • We can talk to the leader if we feel that there are elements that are unfair, or we are concerned about resources not being allocated.
  • We can share any concerns with the other individual or individuals early, before they have grown and turned into conflicts that are much more difficult to resolve later on.
  • We can seek out additional opportunities for ourselves, rather than waiting for them to be given to us. 
  • We can find someone else to help arbitrate disagreements if we cannot fix them ourselves – this means someone who is not involved in the controversy can help us work out a compromise or solution.
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The importance of resolving conflicts early

The critical thing is that conflicts are much easier to resolve early on. Most conflicts started from a small beginning that led to a loss of trust and then escalated over time.

We should always keep an eye out for potential conflicts, and try to avoid getting into any – and if they start, try to fix them as quickly as possible.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should emphasise the difference between disagreements, which are a healthy and regular part of working in a team, with conflicts which can be unhelpful and destructive.
  • Learners can reflect on occasions when disagreements turned into conflicts and what the effect of those were. This may need some thoughtful and sensitive facilitation from the teacher. 
  • The teacher can then illustrate some examples of where conflicts emerged – these might be drawn from current affairs, geography, history or literature. In each case, the emphasis should be on how small differences spiralled into conflict. Learners can be encouraged to identify these patterns for themselves.
  • The focus can then move to thinking about how to avoid or diffuse conflicts before they develop. Learners can give their ideas and suggestions, and these compared to some of the tips above.
  • Finally, role play can give learners the opportunity to practice some of the techniques to avoid ending up in conflict with others. 

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself to reinforcement in the classroom context when disputes or disagreements might emerge among learners. It might be good to turn some of the guidelines as things to remind learners of before group working, or to use them as visual reminders in the classroom.

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation of group learning, but also a learner’s interactions with their peers over a sustained period.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work:

This step is relevant to all those who work with others on shared work. 

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

  • Explain to an individual the difference between disagreements, which are a healthy and regular part of working in a team and conflicts which can be unhelpful and destructive.
  • Task the individual on an exercise which is about them recognising the signs of a disagreement turning into a conflict. This might involve the individual speaking to a colleague who has an experience of being involved in a disagreement turning into a conflict – perhaps a peer who was involved in an acrimonious split with a company supplier or a senior manager who was involved in a failed merger between two companies.
  • Model some of the risk factors associated with a conflict in the workplace to help an individual understand how these develop. To achieve this, an individual can produce a diagram which presents the six risk factors referenced above. During a demonstration, a manager can then annotate this diagram to show what can be done to minimise the risk of these risks emerging. 
  • Reflect with the individual on the consequences of conflicts they have seen at work, helping an individual recognise why it is important to avoid them. This can then be linked to the tips for avoiding conflicts starting in the first instance. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During the course of our interactions with team members, balancing the value of disagreement and debate, with avoiding unhelpful conflict.
  • Working with clients or customers: When our work requires that we interact closely with our customer over an extended duration, with a focus on not creating unhelpful conflicts as a result.

Reviewing it:

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

  • A manager can check how well a person avoids causing unhelpful conflicts by collecting feedback from stakeholders who work regularly with that individual. In this feedback, stakeholders can report the occasions they have seen the individual cause unhelpful conflicts. To check for accuracy, it might be helpful here to get the individual’s perspective on any instances which have been reported. 
  • A manager can check these insights against their own observations of the individual at work. 

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 using some of the techniques above to not cause unhelpful conflicts
  • Questioning the individual to explore whether they understand the difference between disagreement and conflict, and whether they can suggest any of the strategies above for how they would avoid unhelpful conflict.

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, discussions and group work are common place. The majority of teachers or lecturers use this style of teaching to support our learning and skills development. However, when disagreements occur in a discussion group the impact can sometimes extend beyond the specific lesson, into other lessons and into social relationships. For a group discussion within a lesson or seminar to be a good learning experience, it is important that we do not introduce conflict or make unhelpful comments

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

The output of a team discussion at work will usually relate to something that benefits the organisation: for example, an agreement on a new way of working, new prices, the recruitment of new employees, or acceptance of a new client. If conflict is allowed to occur within a discussion then the decision-making process will tend to be longer or the quality of the decision reduced, with each being damaging to the productivity of the organisation. Creating unhelpful conflicts may also bring into question your professionalism and impact how you are seen in the business. The ability to control any disagreement and to not introduce conflict will help to improve the overall work of the team.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In the wider world, disagreements can arise – between friends or family members,in sports and social clubs or within community organisations. However, when there is the need for a decision to be made, any conflict or disagreement is likely to reduce the quality of the final decision. When conflict arises, there is an increased risk that the final decision will not be accepted by everyone. Social groups, away from the workplace or school or college, might find that they lose members if conflict is allowed to develop within discussions.

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!

  • Think of a situation in your life when you have been part of or witnessed a conflict,for example, amongst friends or family members, in your sports team, at school,college or in the workplace. Think back to what happened, why it happened, the opinions of those involved and the final outcome of the situation. Was the conflict allowed to build? Was it overcome? If so, how? Did someone intervene or act to stop it building? If not, what could you have done to improve the situation?
  • Review the content of this step and list ten sentences or phrases you could use to help improve the team discussion and reduce the potential for any conflict.
  • Consider the impact social media may have on a group or team discussion. Can you identify any situations when social media may have a negative effect on team discussions and be used to introduce conflict within a team?

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