Chapter 3 Group Discussion – Advanced Communication Skills Laboratory Manual

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Group Discussion

INTRODUCTION

Group discussion (GD) is an important form of group communication apart from seminars, meetings, conventions, symposia, panel discussions, conferences etc. Group discussions are conducted by organizations to find solutions to problems and to take suitable decisions. Owing to its importance, group discussion is used in the selection process in organizations and academic institutions. Though it is not aimed at selecting a few and rejecting many, this exercise is useful in creating an important impression in the minds of panelists regarding a candidate. So the students need to be aware of what a group discussion is, why it is conducted and how they should perform. Technocrats should understand that they need to work in groups in many contexts at their workplaces. So they need to have clear and complete awareness regarding how to work in a team. Working in a team requires mutual understanding, understanding the task, understanding the roles assigned to each one, and, of course, communicating with each other. We are focusing on group discussion as a part of the selection process, and intend to train you in the methodology and their evaluation components and pattern.

WHAT IS GROUP DISCUSSION?

A group discussion is all about a group of individuals sitting around a table to discuss an issue, a topic, a problem or a situation. In selection processes, group discussions are conducted to understand the ability of a candidate to communicate in a group effectively and assertively, his/ her ability to find multiple solutions to the given situation if the topic is a problem-oriented one, or analyse the case logically if the topic is a case study. The selection bodies believe in informing the candidates about their rules, but a few of them do not care about it. If they explain the rules, you are supposed to follow them carefully. Otherwise, you should (as a group) decide whether you are going to follow a structured group-discussion model, i.e., each participant is given a chance to speak; or an unstructured one, i.e, anyone can participate any time and does not need to follow a rigid sequence. Then you should decide how much time you are going to take (approximately). In the process of a discussion, you are understood and evaluated as an individual and also as a part of a team.

Coming to the skills, the panel evaluates listening skills, speaking skills, analytical and problem-solving skills, leadership skills and interpersonal skills.

Listening Skill

Listening is all about hearing sounds, decoding them, comprehending and analysing them. You need to consciously attempt to develop this skill as it is very important to be a good listener in group discussions. Listening helps you:

  • Understand the topic clearly from various perspectives.
  • Enables you to understand others’ points of view.
  • Helps you to react and participate in the discussion meaningfully.
  • Helps you to express your ideas at the relevant and appropriate time in the discussion.

From the four popular approaches to listening—discriminating, comprehensive, critical and active listening—GDs demand active listening. Active listening is about being empathetic, and encouraging the speaker. It involves a careful observation of both verbal and non-verbal behaviour of the speaker to comprehend and analyse the speaker’s point of view. To be an active listener, you need to:

  • Be motivated to listen.
  • Be prepared to listen.
  • Be objective and avoid jumping to conclusions based on your background knowledge.
  • Be alert to all verbal and non-verbal cues and decode them without being prejudiced.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Use your common sense to guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word, and not get stuck with it.

Speaking Skill

Effective listening will make you an effective speaker. For a clear understanding of the aspects you need to focus on, read and understand the following things. Speaking involves the selection of vocabulary, construction of sentences, sequential arrangement of ideas and sentences, coherence, following of punctuation marks and intonation. Since a GD is a formal set up, you are required to speak in formal English and avoid using slang, jargon and informal expressions. While constructing sentences, remember not to construct complicated, ambiguous, and single-worded sentences. You should construct simple, clear, direct and complete sentences. While speaking, follow the appropriate punctuations and intonation to make it more intelligible. Fluency in English-speaking is a skill, which you can develop only with deliberate and purposeful effort. So, to speak effectively in a group discussion:

  • Do not repeat your points, unless it is your main idea on which you are basing your entire argument.
  • Be energetic and show variations in the tone to hold the attention of the listeners.
  • Every time you are presenting an idea or argument, remember to make substantial contribution to the discussion.
  • If you are quoting someone, be careful not to change it in any way.
  • Be very clear in ideas, verbal communication and your purpose.
  • Be brief to hold the attention of the audience.
  • When you are arguing strongly, ensure that you are supported by correct and substantial proofs.
  • Spontaneity would certainly be rewarded in terms of an idea presented, an apt word selected, a right idiom used, a suitable phrasal-verb usage, an apt foreign word used, a one-word substitution instead of a roundabout expression.

Problem-Solving Skills

Participation in group discussions requires sound problem-solving skills. Problem-solving skills, in turn, deal with accurate analytical skills. When you are given a problem to find an appropriate solution, follow the following steps:

  • Do not panic while looking at its volume or intensity, familiarity or unfamiliarity.
  • Familiarity to some things might lead you to overconfidence, so be careful, use your background knowledge, but be careful about the nuances every time you approach the problem.
  • Have confidence in yourself, and gather adequate information to face the audience.
  • Take the factual information given and pay attention to every detail; logically understand the inherent order.
  • Analyse the problem from various perspectives and understand the reasons clearly.
  • Think of multiple solutions to the problem.
  • Select the best solution among them and think of an alternative one in case the first one does not function.

Leadership Skills

Group discussion is not supposed to have a nominated leader. Someone with the following characteristics will emerge as a leader. Please check if you have these features and nurture them further:

  • A voracious reader with knowledge about varied topics.
  • Excellent emotional composure and great emotional balance and intelligence.
  • Judicious and highly objective.
  • Highly democratic, believing in equal opportunity for all, thus encouraging all participants.
  • Good problem-solving skills and logical thinking to lead the team systematically and successfully towards its conclusion.
  • Effective communication skills to tackle turbulent conditions and bulldozers successfully.
  • The ability to maintain consistency throughout the discussion and remind the group in case of the lack of it.
  • The skill to steer the discussion to a meaningful, feasible and acceptable conclusion.
  • Adeptness in controlling the bulldozers: When you understand that someone is trying to dominate all others vocally or physically, and you cannot reason with him/her, you silence the person by raising your voice, or by gesturing, or by bringing out a logical flaw in his/her argument.

Interpersonal Skills

As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, your success in the workplace depends on your interpersonal skills to a great extent. Effective interpersonal communication and behaviour are vital to interpersonal skills. Here are some aspects of effective interpersonal skills:

  • Be empathetic when others are speaking. A pleasant facial expression, proper eye contact and appropriate body movements ensure empathy.
  • Listening with an open mind also ensures empathy and nurtures healthy interpersonal skills.
  • Aggressive body language, excessive and loud vocal expressions convey a feeling of superiority. This will hamper interpersonal relations. You need to encourage a positive environment through a message of equality.
  • While disagreeing with a speaker, be polite and objective.
  • When someone disagrees with you, do not immediately react with vehemence. Instead, try to understand the other person’s perspective and respond to the points he focused on.
  • Do not show any personal favouritism.
  • If you are managing the group discussion, and there is some conflict between two persons/parties, be judicious and resolve the conflict with patience. Let the group understand that the performance of the group depends on the solutions they offer and not individually held rigid ideas.
  • Dominating the discussion without allowing others to express their opinions is considered as a negative trait. Being a gate opener, who helps others get into the discussion, is favoured, since such a person maintains healthy interpersonal relations.
  • Submissive behaviour in terms of avoiding eye contact, feeble voice, bending body language convey a negative message regarding a candidate.
  • Avoid making any personal comments as this would strain the relations among the group members.

The panel also gives importance to your knowledge of the topic and your ability to present ideas effectively and convincingly. The thumb rule is that you should be well versed with current happenings around the world and, in particular, your field of study. Your awareness of the latest developments and your personal understanding about them is very important. Apart from being original, you need to substantiate your argument with convincing and relevant points. Thus, you can be an effective participant if you have a very good command on the topic, ability to assimilate all your ideas, arrange them logically and present them effectively with a careful observation of the flow of the discussion. You can contradict or support anyone in the discussion, provided you present strong, relevant and convincing ideas.

Once you realise you know the topic very well, take some time (depending on the time given to begin the discussion) to assimilate all your ideas in your mind or on a piece of paper (if they allow you to carry one). Once you put them all on paper, arrange them logically in an order, probably by numbering them. While presenting your ideas, do not be in a hurry to present them all at once. Observe the direction of the discussion and present relevant ideas at the relevant time.

If you feel that you do not have a lot of ideas about the topic, do not initiate the discussion, be an observer for some time and carefully listen to participants, so that you might come up with a few ideas thereafter. Now, present your ideas at an apt time in the course of the discussion. Remember that you should express your ideas at least once in the entire discussion.

While presenting an idea in a group discussion, it is essential to mention its relevance to the topic given for the GD. Once the topic is given, pay complete attention to each word. Understand the topic clearly. Try to identify the concept hidden in the topic through logically analysing the key words. If the topic deals with complicated issues of human society, you might have to take into consideration multiple perspectives—social, cultural, political and ethnic. If you are confident about your knowledge , you can initiate the discussion, otherwise be a good listener to begin to talk. In this kind of a discussion, one can expect the first couple of minutes to be chaotic. Do not worry, and try (as a team/as an individual) to steer the discussion gradually towards a meaningful conclusion.

If the topic is a case study, understand and analyse the case from all possible angles. Case studies aim at appraisal of the past actions that led to the present situation, analysis of the present situation, and offer suitable decisions which will be useful for a better future. Thus, your discussion has to focus on:

  • Appraisal of past actions and decisions.
  • Understanding the present situation from different points of view.
  • If possible, comparing the present case with any other case of a similar nature and knowing the consequences in that case.
  • Suggesting as many alternative action plans as possible.
  • Exploring the pros and cons of each of your suggestions.
  • Finding the best suited decision.
  • Working out an implementation plan for the selected decision.
  • Working out a contingency plan, in case your implementation fails.
PREPARATION

Preparation for a GD can be divided into two phases. The first, before you come into the room where the GD is conducted. In this phase, you should consult good magazines, journals, newspapers, etc. to develop your knowledge of various issues concerning your field of study and a general awareness regarding current world affairs. In this phase, you should also develop your logical thinking skills. Test your skills often through various self-evaluation questionnaires. Always carry a pen and a sheet of paper to scribble your ideas. This will develop clarity. Also have frequent discussions with your friends on a variety of subjects.

When you are about to participate in the GD, pay attention to your appearance, be positive and be ready to participate in the discussion. Wear clean, neat, suitable and well-stitched clothes. Your presentable and pleasant appearance not only fills your mind with confidence, it also makes the people around you have a positive opinion about you. Familiarize yourself with the environment, the seating arrangement and fellow participants, and if possible, try to know their names. This will help you proceed with confidence. Building confidence is an important part of the second phase of the preparation.

PARTICIPATION

Once you are aware of the methodology, evaluative components and the skills required to fare well in a GD, you should concentrate first on your individual performance and group performance. The significant aspects of participation are the following:

  • Be ready to initiate the discussion.
  • Steer the discussion in a logical, legible and convincing direction.
  • Identify your role, your supporters and your opponents.

If you feel that you are a good team player, Table 3.1 shows some of the roles you might play and their characteristics:

 

Table 3.1

Role Positive Characteristics Functions
Initiator Smart, cheerful, enthusiastic, ready to participate, has original ideas Initiates the discussion. Guides the discussion and shows leadership signs
Informer Fluent, clear with ideas, wellinformed, logical Has a lot of ideas, so contributes vitally to the group reaching a conclusion
Illustrator Effective ability to communicate clearly. Has deep knowledge on varied topics Good participant, elaborates others’ point of view, demonstrates relevance, develops self-ideas
Coordinator Empathetic, listens to everyone with care, friendly Good participant, makes the hesitant members participate by encouraging them, able to coordinate varied ideas and sum up
Orienter Good organizational skills, democratic, friendly and goal-oriented Steers part of the discussion, sums up at least one aspect of the discussion
Leader Initiative, tolerance, team spirit, persuasiveness, decisiveness, flexible, assertive, able to tackle bulldozers Initiates the discussion, sums up the approaches, steers the discussion, manages the group throughout, holds the goal till the end
PERFORMANCE

Your performance depends on all the above factors along with your ability to express your ideas with suitable non-verbal communicative elements. It is well known that ‘actions speak louder than words’. So you need to be aware and follow non-verbal cues carefully.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is the most important of all non-verbal cues in group discussions. When you are speaking, you should remember that everyone in the group is equally important to you, so give that impression to all the members. Make eye contact with all the members of the group. When another participant is speaking, you are supposed to look straight into his/her eyes. Good eye contact is a characteristic of attentive listening. Moreover, when you look into the eyes of a speaker, there is always a chance that you can interrupt him/her if he is going overboard.

Facial Expressions

First and foremost, you need to remember that a GD is a formal forum and requires formal etiquette. Being polite is very important; expressing that through facial expressions is essential. Showing negative emotions like anger, irritation and frustration clearly send alarm signals to the panelists. So avoid revealing them. Wear pleasant, warm, confident and friendly facial expressions.

Hand Movements

You can refer to Chapter 2 to follow the rules regarding gestures. As far as a GD and hand gestures are concerned, in a formal setting, it is not advisable to lean totally on the table or play with the things on the table. You are advised to use your hand relevantly and appropriately while speaking to the audience. But when someone else is speaking, do not use hand movements for anything, unless it is urgent.

Posture

Seat yourself comfortably and show assertion in your posture, i.e., do not throw your body and do not be rigid. Sit straight with your head held erect, and do not lean on the table or to any one side.

VOICE CHARACTERS

Pace

Speaking fast has two disadvantages. One, it blurs clarity, and two, it puts unnecessary pressure on you. Speaking too slow also has two disadvantages. One, it is boring to listen to anything slow, and two, you will be too lost to present the next point. So, maintain optimum speed.

Pitch

Analyse the size of your group and size of the table and speak in an audible, pleasant pitch.

Tone

Tone refers to your approach and attitude towards the entire process that you exhibit in your voice. It should be polite, pleasant and serious.

Pronunciation

Intelligible pronunciation is taught to you in your multimedia laboratory. So follow the standard rules of English pronunciation.

Enunciation

Moderate speed, right pitch, appropriate tone and intelligible pronunciation give clarity, i.e., enunciation to the speech.

Thus, finally, you should express self-confidence, optimism, sincerity and a friendly personality through your verbal and non-verbal communication. While appearing before the group, remember that first impressions are extremely important and to make an effective first impression, you should know that courteous, helpful, polite, well-dressed and assertive features are extremely essential. For a quick look at the important points, look at the dos and don’ts in Table 3.2:

 

Table 3.2

Do’s Don’ts
1) Seat yourself comfortably. 1) Be in a hurry to start discussing.
2) Listen to the topic carefully. 2) Be silent.
3) Organize your ideas before speaking. 3) Dominate vocally/physically.
4) Speak at the earliest opportunity. 4) Assume the role of the chairman.
5) Be polite. 5) Take an extreme stance.
6) Identify your supporters and opponents. 6) Enter into an argument.
7) Allow your supporters to augment your ideas. 7) Pass value judgment.
8) Keep track of time. 8) Look at the faculty.
9) Share time fairly. 9) Shout at inert participants.
10) Listen to others’ points. 10) Move excessively in your chair or lean on the table.
EXAMPLE

Aditi, Bijoy, Charu, Daisy and Ehsan are waiting for their group discussion to start. They do not have a topic yet and are waiting for the moderator to make everybody comfortable. The moderator looks at the clock and announces: ‘You have five minutes for this group discussion. And your topic is “How to Succeed in Group Discussions.” Please start.’

Bijoy: This should be interesting. A GD on GD! I suggest we should discuss the importance of a GD first. I mean, why have a GD at all?

Charu: I find this very strange. How can you have a GD on GD? We should be discussing some current topic to test our knowledge.

Ehsan: I agree that this is rather unusual. At the same time, our job is to conduct a meaningful discussion regardless of the topic. Bijoy has suggested we start with the importance of GD. Today, GD is a very important part of various selection procedures.

Aditi: GD is all about teamwork. That’s all.

Bijoy: Management is all about working with people. I suppose GD is one way of establishing one’s ability to work with others: How we are able to lead and be led.

Charu: (Laughs) You are using some impressive management jargon, my friend! I don’t think a GD has anything to do with leading or being led. At the most, a GD may give an idea about how a business meeting is held. Otherwise, it is only about sharing your knowledge with others.

Bijoy: (Visibly irritated) Looks like you are very sure about your knowledge. Perhaps, there is no need for a group or even a discussion?

Ehsan: We have some interesting points here—leadership and sharing knowledge. Perhaps, a GD is a good tool to assess how well you are able to function within a group.

Daisy: I want to…

Aditi: I don’t think any discussion is meaningful unless everyone has the same level of knowledge.

Daisy: I want to say something. Pardon if I make any wrong. I am from vernacular medium…

Aditi: Don’t waste our time talking about your background. The topic is GD. Talk about that.

Bijoy: Every subject has various angles. So, many heads can raise many ideas.

Charu: Also, too many cooks spoil the broth (laughs).

Ehsan: Yes, a group makes it possible to brainstorm any issue. Perhaps, Daisy has something to add to this thought.

Daisy: Thanks for giving me chance. A GD is good for ‘consensus’. It is always better everybody agree. Otherwise, only one person is there.

Charu: (Leaning forward and pointing to Daisy) I think the correct word is ‘consensus’. Don’t use a word unless you know what you are talking about.

Bijoy: Consensus is fine. But is it necessary that everyone should have the same viewpoint?

Ehsan: That is an interesting thought. Yes, Daisy is right that a GD is about consensus but there can still be differences. A GD provides an opportunity to discuss various aspects of an issue and weigh merits and demerits of different approaches.

Charu: Agree to disagree.

Bijoy: But the question is how to succeed in GDs. I think the first prerequisite is patience. Some of us must learn to shut up and let others talk (looks directly at Charu).

Aditi: If everyone follows that, we will only have silence and no discussion.

Ehsan: I suppose the point is to participate and give others a chance to participate as well.

Daisy: Please can I speak?

Aditi: Come on! You don’t have to beg for permission to speak!

Daisy: I said that because I thought someone might have wanted to speak before me. Anyway, is it not possible to only listen?

Charu: (Smirks) I don’t know how the moderator will rate your profound silence!

Bijoy: But Daisy, no one can read your mind. Unless you speak, how do you contribute?

Ehsan: I think a GD is very much like a business meeting. Every participant may present an individual point of view but the thinking about that point of view is collective.

Aditi: I don’t think you can compare a GD to a business meeting. In a meeting, there is usually a chairman whose job is to control the meeting.

Bijoy: A GD may not have a chairman, but I suppose one person usually emerges as the leader and guides the discussion.

Charu: I suppose someone fancies himself to be a leader. This is so boring!

Moderator: Your time is up. Thank you everyone.

Moderator’s notes: Ehsan shows leadership skills and the ability to hold a group together. He appears to have a good grasp of the subject, though, on the whole, the GD failed to do justice to the core subject of how to succeed. Bijoy also has some interesting ideas but is prone to being provoked easily. Charu is too sure and too full of herself to be able to contribute to a group. Aditi is guilty of intolerance and rude interruptions. Daisy needs to work on her language and her confidence, though she may have the right concepts.

Examiners are advised to arrange a group of eight to ten students around a table, announce the topic, and set the rules. Divide the rest of the students into a few groups, give them the parameters to examine the performing group. After the performance is completed, ask the peer groups to present their analyses. The teacher should also present his analysis. Then each performer should be asked to answer self-performance questions. Repeat this at least twice and note the improvement.

TOPICS FOR ACTIVITY IN THE LAB
  1. Earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
  2. Terror attacks on Indian cities.
  3. Financial mess in the world.
  4. Technical research and development in India at present.
  5. Should chargesheeted politicians resign?
  6. Glorification of violence and sex in media accounts for the high crime rate.
  7. Are strikes justifiable?
  8. Where is the position of literature in technical education in India?
  9. Reservation poses a threat to national unity and integration.
  10. Indian youth needs a realistic goal.
  11. Science is universal but technology is local.
  12. Necessity to build green buildings.
  13. Technology twenty years from now.
  14. Clean technology is the thrust of the day.
  15. Reverse engineering and its importance.
ACTIVITY SHEET 1

Self-Evaluation

  1. I am comfortable with the topic.
    • Yes
    • No
    • If no, why?_____
  2. I began the discussion I joined while the discussion was going on
    • I concluded the discussion

     

  3. I participated and spoke:
    • Once
    • Twice
    • Thrice
    • Many times
  4. I think I am very good at:
    • Arguing
    • Retorting
    • Convincing
    • Negotiating
    • Leading
  5. The most difficult part of the exercise was:
    • Spoken English
    • Sentence construction
    • Finding Suitable Vocabulary Any other
  6. I could maintain good eye contact with all the participants:
    • Yes
    • No
  7. I was:
    • Sitting straight
    • Leaning on one side
    • Leaning on the table
  8. I was:
    • Pleasant
    • Sad
    • Serious
    • Angry
    • Tense
  9. My speed of speaking is:
    • Fast
    • Moderate
    • Slow
  10. Did I:
    • Thump the table
    • Raise my hand
    • Point at someone with the index finger? If so, why? _____.

Peer Group Evaluation

Non-verbal communication: Posture/hands/eye contact/facial expressions

Voice qualities: Speed/clarity/flow/sequencing/pitch/tone

Language: Sentences/words

Leadership skills

Intrapersonal skills

Team skills

Teacher’s Evaluation

Non-verbal communication: Posture/hands/eye contact/facial expressions

Voice qualities: Speed/clarity/ flow/sequencing/pitch/tone

Language: Sentences/words

Leadership skills

Intrapersonal skills

Team skills

ACTIVITY 2

Self-Evaluation

  1. I am comfortable with the topic.
    • Yes
    • No
    • If no, why?_____.
    • I began the discussion
    • I joined while the discussion was going on
    • I concluded the discussion
  2. I participated and spoke:
    • Once
    • Twice
    • Thrice
    • Many times
  3. I think I am very good at:
    • Arguing
    • Retorting
    • Convincing
    • Negotiating
    • Leading
  4. The most difficult part of the exercise was:
    • Spoken English
    • Sentence construction
    • Finding suitable vocabulary
    • Any other
  5. I could maintain good eye contact with all the participants:
    • Yes
    • No
  6. I was
    • sitting straight
    • Leaning to one side
    • Leaning on the table
  7. I was
    • pleasant
    • Sad
    • Serious
    • Angry
    • Tense
  8. My speed of speaking:
    • Fast
    • Moderate
    • Slow
    • Did I thump the table
    • Raise my hand
    • Point at someone with the index finger? If so, why? _____.
  9. Do I see any improvement in my performance?
    • Yes Area_____
    • No Reasons_____

Peer Group Evaluation

Non-verbal communication: Posture/hands/eye contact/facial expressions

Voice qualities: Speed/clarity/flow/sequencing/pitch/tone

Language: Sentences/words

Leadership skills

Intrapersonal skills

Team skills

Teacher’s Evaluation

Non-verbal communication: Posture/hands/eye contact/facial expressions

Voice qualities: Speed/clarity/flow/sequencing/pitch/tone

Language: Sentences/words

Leadership skills

Intrapersonal skills

Team skills