Group Discussions 101

I have been making notes on GD’s (I have a long way to go), but my professor’s feedback during the session was like Thor: solemn, all-knowing, except you couldn’t really see the hammer.

I figured I might as well post it here. A caveat, though. Group discussions here primarily refer to ones conducted by B-schools during admission procedures or companies out on campus recruitment drives.

In case you are too lazy and/or love downloading pdf files for everything (I cannot be the only one), there’s a link at the end. It is free!

before you begin

Moderators love it when you make mistakes. Their job is to track the number of mistakes you commit and eliminate people.

Nothing escapes the moderator’s eye. He might just shake his head in disappointment when you glance at him to see how well you perform under pressure. Avoid looking at the moderator.

The purpose of a group discussion is to help the organization ascertain how good a fit you will be in their company. Will it be worth taking you on board? They want to see how good a manager you can be.

Not to say you should be on your most polite behaviour: assert yourself firmly but avoid aggression.

during discussion

Although rules about what you can and cannot do vary from company/B-school to company/B-school — however little–
 a majority do not allow students to note anything down. Personally, this is a challenge I am working to overcome; I make notes and copious lists and whatnot. If I was a dinosaur, I would be called Writeosaurus.
Practise frequently enough to get comfortable with the idea of speaking without any reference.
If you are opening the discussion, chances are you will get the attention without any hindrance. Since this is where your managerial/people qualities are put to test, do not continue speaking for too long. Instead, after having outlined how you (the collective you) plan to go about it, encourage others to pitch in for two reasons:
If you don’t, you stand the risk of exhausting all your points at once. You know what happens after that?
You don’t have much left to speak later.
Secondly, your effort to include others and not hog the limelight does not go unnoticed. It goes on to show that you want to listen to others and value their opinions too.
If you are initiating discussion, chalk out a map you would like the group to follow and encourage discussion.
A blueprint for the discussion is best handled in the form of questions you feel should be addressed in order for the group to fully utilise its time and reach a conclusion.

While it is not wrong to take a personal stand, avoid the urge to give in to the superiority complex.

Steer away from a condescending tone. You can always use expressions like ‘I feel/think’, though.

If someone makes little sense or has opposing views, a good way to pick up after this person has finished would be
‘I have a different point of view…’
‘I differ from you’
‘Well, your point noted but[in case the bully refuses to let go of the reigns]
In case you’re a girl and the bully in question is a guy, smile at him a tiny smile.
This does two things:
‘Wait. Why did she smile at me, again?’
And voila, there’s your chance to speak!
[Guys, don’t even try.]

In case it becomes difficult to catch hold of the bully-speaker’s attention, look around as you try to speak. If some people look at you while you’ve been attempting to make your voice heard, you already have an audience!
Address your audience and make your case. Brownie points for presence of mind!
Remember, nothing escapes the moderator’s eye. He might just shake his head in disappointment when you glance at him. This, to see how well you perform under pressure. So do your best to avoid looking at the moderator.

Body language is a fairly important aspect and one where most people lose out. Don’t cross your legs or fiddle with your hands. keep your palms flat on the knees and plant your feet on the floor. Anything else risks loss of marks.

Eye contact: You’re discussing with a group, so it makes sense to look at them while you speak. Be sensible in that do not fix your gaze on only one person or a limited group of people; this might cause a rift since the others feel offended at not being included non-verbally.

Do not address your colleagues as ma’am or sir. ‘My friend’ fits the bill just fine.

Never give examples from your personal life or someone else’s, even if it is for an alternative reality’s sake. No references to religion, caste, creed or sex unless the topic necessitates bringing it up.
For instance, on a discussion on capital punishment for rape, do not, I repeat, do not, ask an interlocutor what if his/her mother had been raped and a life sentence was awarded to the accused, not a death sentence.
When you cannot imagine saying something as deeply hurting to your closest friend, don’t employ it in a GD simply in trying to gain a lead over others. It will, in all probability leave a bad taste. No one wants a colleague who gets their mothers raped, even hypothetically.

through it all

Don’t forget to be a good listener: if/when you’re questioned about the discussion or when you summarize, the moderator’s heart skips a beat and he fights the temptation to give you a brownie point for including a sentence or two on what all the participants said and concisely indicate the trajectory of discussion without trying to add any new points.

Keep smiling throughout. Even if you are competing, you do not need to look like a Spartan war veteran. 🙂

::Here:: are key takeaways from the post : )
PS: Anything you think I’ve missed out? Let me know!

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