Group Discussion: what and why?
GD is a discussion by a group of people which involves an exchange of thoughts and ideas. Group Discussions are largely used by institutes where there is a high level of competition. The number of participants in a group may vary from 8 to 15 people. In most cases a topic or a situation is given to the group and the members have to discuss it within a given period of time.
What the panel looks for
All that one observes in a GD can be categorised into two broad areas: the Content and the Process.
- The content is all about the 'matter' (or the 'what') spoken in the GD. Whereas, the process refers to the 'how', 'when' and 'why' of the GD.
- Both are equally important and need adequate attention at all stages.
- A high quality contribution with no regard to the 'process' is as suicidal as one which is high on packaging with little content.
Critical success factors in a GD
- Cognitive skills or knowledge
The most important aspect of your contribution to a GD is the quality of content (QOC), which is reflected in the points you make, knowledge of the relevant subject, and the supportive examples you give.
- Comprehension of the core idea
It is essential to deliver high quality content. But to do that, you should speak on the topic and not deviate. The panel basically wants to see whether you have identified the crux of the problem and whether you are offering relevant solutions.
- Logical reasoning
It includes understanding the topic, generating quality arguments, analysis and a progressive approach to a justifiable conclusion. This is one of the necessary attributes to be seen in an influential participant. Such people convey an impression of being open minded and logic driven rather than opinionated.
- Behavioural and personality skills
This includes certain attributes like rapport-building, team membership, participation, patience, assertion and accommodation, amenability, leadership, etc.
- Communication skills
You should be able to articulate your thoughts properly and you should also be able to understand what others are trying to say.
- Clarity of thoughts
In whatever you say, follow a logical sequence/order rather then presenting the points in some bits and pieces.
- Body language and eye contact
These are some tools which check your level of confidence and whether you can work together effectively in a group or not. So, be sure to maintain eye contact with everyone in the group.
Strategies for a succesful GD
Sailing through Group Discussions successfully is an art. Heres a look at some strategies that will take you a long way in winning the day.
BE NATURAL: The best mantra is 'to be your natural self'. Do not manufacture artificial responses. See a GD or an interview as just an extension of any other routine situation you encounter. This will induce spontaneity in your responses and will save you the unnecessary "What should I do if . . .?" problem.
MUST SPEAK: The first principle of participating in a GD is that you must speak.
For any GD, take a piece of paper and a pen with you and use them unless specifically asked by the evaluators not do so. Before you start speaking, think through the major issues in the topic in the first two minutes. Jot down points on the paper or mentally work out the framework for analysis. Start speaking only when you have understood and analysed the topic. If another participant has started the discussion even before you have read and understood the topic, you could try to ask the person to wait while you finish. It may, however, be better to continue with your analysis, while listening to what is being said, and to speak only when you are ready.
If you do not understand the topic, then either ask the group what the topic means and accept that your ignorance will be obvious to all or else wait. May be the meaning will become clear after a few minutes of the discussion, when someone else discusses it.
Avoid speaking in turn as it leads to an unnatural discussion. A GD involves a free-flowing exchange of ideas among participants. Even though there will definitely be chaos in most competitive GDs, as all participants will be keen to be heard, any suggestion of order, such as speaking, in turn, is unacceptable.
We have never seen a strategy of speaking turn by turn succeed in the hundreds of GDs we have evaluated so far. Also there have been no instances of anyone being selected after suggesting that participants speak turn by turn.
OPENING AND CLOSING A DISCUSSION
Opening a discussion is a high risk — high return strategy. In most GDs, the opening speaker is the person who is likely to get the maximum uninterrupted air time. The reason is simple — most other participants will still be trying to understand the basic issues in the topic, or are too nervous to speak and are waiting for someone else to start. Therefore, the evaluators get the best chance to observe the opening speakers. Now this is a double-edged sword. If the opening speaker talks sense, he will get credit because he opened the discussion and took the group in the right direction.
If, on the other hand, the first speaker's start lacks substance, he will attract the undivided attention of the evaluators to his shortcomings. He will be marked as a person who speaks without thinking and merely for the sake of speaking. Also, he may be marked as someone who leads the group in the wrong direction and does not make a positive contribution to the group.
So remember, speaking first can make or mark your GD performance depending on how you handle it. Speak first only if you have enough sensible things to say. Otherwise, keep yourself silent and let someone else start.
Try and summarise the discussion at the end. In the summary, do not merely restate your point of view, also accommodate dissenting viewpoints. If the group did not reach a consensus, say so in your summary, but remember, do not force a consensus. Forcing a consensus could end up working against you.
ENTERING A DISCUSSION
Identify the way to enter the discussion. In a loud GD where there are three or four aggressive participants, and where a number of people tend to speak at the same time, it becomes difficult for others to get a chance to speak. This is the most frequent problem encountered by participants. There is no foolproof solution to this problem. And such a situation is pretty much likely to prevail during the actual GD that you participate in. However, it is crucial that you speak. How can you do this?
Some guidelines on interjecting in a loud GD
You will have to decide which one is appropriate.
- Enter the troughs:
Every GD has its highs and lows. There are times when the noise level is high and times when it is low. You could wait for the lows and time your interjection then. However, in some GDs, if one waits for lows, he/she would never get a chance to speak.
- Enter after a person has made his point:
The success of an interjection depends not only on assertiveness but also on the receptiveness of others. If you interject when someone else has just begun speaking, before he has made his point, it is unlikely that he will let you have your way. On the other hand, if you wait till he has made some of his points, he will be more amenable to letting you speak. But don't wait too long!
- Enter with a supportive statement:
A useful way of starting your interjection is by supporting a point that has just been made. People will let you speak if they think you agree with them or if you praise them. Try starting by saying something like, "I agree with that point and I would like to add . . ."
Alternatively, praise the person who had just spoken by saying, "I think that is a very important point . . . ". In all probability, he will let you speak. Once you have the floor, you could either extend the argument or you could switch tracks by saying, " . . . however, before we spend more time on that issue we should be discussing . . ."
- Enter by increasing volume:
The most natural way of entering when you find that others are not listening is to raise your voice. This is not the smartest way of interjecting and in a GD where everyone is shouting, there is a only slight chance that it would work. To be effective, however, you will have to combine this tool with some of the others mentioned, as it is unlikely to succeed on its own.
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