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Group Discussions: Talk It Easy

What The Article Is All About:
Raising your volume and interacting constantly will not stand you in good stead at a Group Discussion. A look at what will….

Sailing through group discussions (GDs) successfully is an art. A look at the strategies that will help take you a long way in winning the day.

Be Natural:
The best mantra is “to be natural self”. You are best that way. 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 analyzed 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.

Speaking in turn is never a good idea. A discussion has to flow naturally. Group members most likely will ignore your suggestion and try to speak when they have something to say.

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:
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 doesn’t have too much sense to say, 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 silent and let someone else start.

Try and summaries 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.

Entry Strategies:
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 most 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, we have GDs where if one wait for lows, he/she would never have spoken.

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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