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Group DiscussionTechniques- 1: Learning the Skills 
  Author :  Admin Vidyarthy,Mumbai      Tuesday, April 07, 2009  



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Many of you intellectual folks, especially those who consider themselves “a balanced soul,” think that it is hardly necessary to train for a group discussion; and that you can walk into your GD group, be yourself, talk logically and reasonably, make some good points and you will win the day. Great! Stay in your utopian dreamland. But once you will come down and walk into that GD group you will find that you are not getting your chance to speak your logical points, and when you do get your chance someone cuts in before you have even started. You may find that someone starts arguing aggressively against you and you do not know how to handle the bully. And Mr. reasonable soul, before you can make much of a movement to get noticed by the evaluator, the GD is already over. Welcome to the real world.

Prima facie, the objective of a group discussion is to get noticed while contributing meaningfully to the group to help it achieve the assigned task. While getting down to the nitty gritty, however, nearly all GDs are about managing conflicts. Contrary to the feeling the word ‘conflict’ evokes, conflict is essential for a good GD. If you bring together 8- 10 highly intellectual creatures with diverse backgrounds, there is no way that you can prevent a clash of ideas. But this conflict of ideas helps the discussion group

         to produce diverse ideas and gain a broad understanding of the problem

         to produce divergent view points and provides more alternatives to select the solutions.

         to stimulate interaction and involvement of the group members.

         to sharpen participation skills and creativity of the group members.

Remember that if your group is not criticizing or challenging the solution/viewpoint proposed by a member, or if entire group discussion ends with one person proposing a solution and the rest of the group agreeing, then your group has a problem. Your group is suffering from groupthink- a situation where individual members suppress their ideas and critical attitudes in order to reach an agreement. In this scenario, effective problem solving cannot take place. So remember that for an effective group discussion members should knock about and churn up diverse ideas in order to reach a solution.

Group exercise 1: The members sit together forming a circle. One member starts by stating his/her view on a topic. After three minutes, the member sitting next to him criticizes the view point of his neighbour and gives arguments against the earlier viewpoint. Then the member sitting next criticizes the viewpoint of the second member and so on…

Developing Skills for Group Discussion

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity. -- Dale Carnegie

Now you know that for a group discussion to be successful, it has to be full of conflicting ideas. However, whenever two or more persons have conflicting ideas, the discussion has the potential to become emotionally charged. Voices will be raised, behaviours will become aggressive, people will start blaming or becoming defensive, or stop listening/participating altogether. For example, a simple statement like “women do not perform well in executive positions” can incite emotions of a female member and start a verbal debate in a wrong direction. Hence, as a group member, you will have to contribute meaningfully by managing conflicts and keeping the discussion on course. For example, you will have to learn to

         handle an aggressive member who is trying to dominate the whole group.

         cut short a group member who is trying to divert the group in a wrong direction.

         mediate between two members arguing with each other.

         quite a talkative member.

         handle a member who is trying to argue with you.

To manage conflicts and perform many other roles in a group discussion, you will have to develop some basic interpersonal skills:

SKILL- 1- ASSERTIVENESS:

As a communication style and strategy, assertiveness is distinguished from aggression and passivity. How people deal with personal boundaries; their own and those of other people, helps to distinguish between these three concepts. Passive communicators do not defend their own personal boundaries and thus allow aggressive people to harm or otherwise unduly influence them. They are also typically not likely to risk trying to influence anyone else. Aggressive people do not respect the personal boundaries of others and thus are liable to harm others while trying to influence them. A person communicates assertively by not being afraid to speak his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. They are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive incursions. (source: wikipedia)

An assertive person communicates (verbally or non verbally) in a firm manner but in a way that does not offend. He operates under the following five principles:

         I respect your existence, your views and your identity.

         I believe in what I am saying.

         We are all going to benefit from this. There are not winners or losers.

         I am going to present my ideas in a simple and understandable manner.

         I am willing to discuss this till we find a common solution.

Notice the ‘I’ statements. An I-statement is a statement that begins with the word "I". It is frequently used in an attempt to be assertive without putting the listener on the defensive. It can be used to take ownership for one's feelings rather than saying they are caused by the other person. An example of this would be saying, "I feel angry when you make fun of my clothes, and I would prefer that you stop doing that." rather than "Quit saying that crap, you're really making me mad!" (The latter is an example of a "you-statement.")

 

I-statement can also be used in constructive criticism; for instance, one might say, "I had to read that section of your paper three times before I understood it," rather than, "This section is worded in a really confusing way," or "You need to learn how to word a paper more clearly." The former comment leaves open the possibility that the fault lies with the giver of the criticism. According to the Conflict Resolution Network, I-statements are a dispute resolution conversation opener that can be used to state how one sees things and how one would like things to be, without using inflaming language

Decide to become more assertive.

         Think like an assertive person, and think of yourself as one.

         Imagine yourself behaving assertively and being treated accordingly.

         Act assertively. Start by taking small steps. Keep going until the uncomfortable feelings fade.

         Mentally rehearse potentially difficult situations. 'Imagine' and 'feel' yourself handling them assertively. 'See' others responding accordingly.

Act assertively.

         Talk unhurriedly, with a clear, steady tone.

         Make a habit of taking slightly more time to reply.

         Give relaxed eye contact: not too much, not too little.

         Avoid fidgeting, scratching, and touching your hair and face.

         Make your point clearly, with conviction, and don't waffle. Then shut up. If you don't succeed straight away, say it again, and if necessary keep repeating it.

         Concentrate on the problem and not the people involved.

         Have a positive attitude; be co-operative; flexible and enthusiastic.

         Don’t lose your patience, stay calm, cool, confident, polite and have a professional approach.

         During Negotiation emphasize on “win-win” situation which is mutually beneficial to both the parties. Discard the notion that someone must ‘win’ the argument.

Here is a movie which is a classic for learning effective group discussion and how to act assertively. Watch Henry Fonda in ’12 angry men.’

12 Angry Men is a 1957 American drama film adapted from the Reginald Rose play, Twelve Angry Men. Directed by first-time director Sidney Lumet, the film tells the story of a jury member who tries to persuade the other eleven members to acquit the suspect on trial on the basis of reasonable doubt. The jury of twelve 'angry men,' entrusted with the power to send an uneducated, teenaged Puerto Rican, tenement-dwelling boy to the electric chair for killing his father with a switchblade knife, are literally locked into a small, claustrophobic rectangular jury room on a stifling hot summer day until they come up with a unanimous decision - either guilty or not guilty. The compelling, provocative film examines the twelve men's deep-seated personal prejudices, perceptual biases and weaknesses, indifference, anger, personalities, unreliable judgments, cultural differences, ignorance and fears, that threaten to taint their decision-making abilities, cause them to ignore the real issues in the case, and potentially lead them to a miscarriage of justice.

Fortunately, one brave dissenting juror (Henry Fonda) votes 'not guilty' at the start of the deliberations because of his reasonable doubt. Persistently and persuasively, he forces the other men to slowly reconsider and review the shaky case (and eyewitness testimony) against the endangered defendant. He also chastises the system for giving the unfortunate defendant an inept 'court-appointed' public defense lawyer who "resented being appointed" - a case with "no money, no glory, not even much chance of winning" - and who inadequately cross-examined the witnesses. Heated discussions, the formation of alliances, the frequent re-evaluation and changing of opinions, votes and certainties, and the revelation of personal experiences, insults and outbursts fill the jury room.

SKILL 2- LISTENING:

Thinking is what a great many people think they are doing when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.  ~William James

Ironically, the above statement would also be true if I replace the verb ‘think’ with the verb ‘listen.’ Some people interrupt, roll their eyes, or rehearse what they’re going to say next instead of truly listening and attempting to understand the other person. Listening attentively to a person creates an ally for you. More importantly, it can help you create entries in a GD. In a GD, nobody is going to give you a chance to speak. But if you are a good listener, you can create your entries by:

       agreeing with a speaking member,

       asking pertinent questions to a speaking member. For example, “I would like to know if you statement is supported by facts?”

       giving a counterpoint to that of a speaking member

       summarizing the points made by the members at the time of conclusion

But for that to happen, you need to learn to listen effectively. Engage yourself in listening actively while a group member is speaking. Avoid these mistakes:

       Pseudo Listening: Your body language keeps saying that you are listening but your mind is somewhere else.

       Silent arguing: As another group member speaks, you begin to prepare your list of objections. Try to play the ‘believing game’ more actively.

       Premature replying: you interrupt the speaker before he is even finished.

       Misplaced focus: Rather than trying to understand the fundamental idea of the speaker, you start nitpicking on minor details to which you object.

       Defensive listening: You feel the speaker arguing with you even when the speaker is elaborating on your idea, asking you to elaborate on it or fundamentally agreeing with you. You relate all the speaker’s ideas only to your own, instead of considering them in their own light.

       Forced meaning: You read more into the speaker’s words than could reasonably be expected.

Learn to be an effective listener by doing the following:

       Stop Talking: Ask the other person for as much detail as he/she can provide; ask for other's views and suggestions

       Look at the person, listen openly and with empathy

       Listen and Respond in an interested way that shows you understand the problem and the other's concern

       acknowledge other's uniqueness, importance

       check for understanding; paraphrase; ask questions for clarification

       don't control conversation; acknowledge what was said; let the other finish before responding

       Focus on the problem, not the person; be descriptive and specific, not evaluative; focus on content, not delivery or emotion

       Attend to emotional as well as cognitive messages (e.g., anger); be aware of non-verbal cues, body language, etc.; listen between the lines

       React to the message, not the person, delivery or emotion

       Make sure you comprehend before you judge; ask questions

       Use many techniques to fully comprehend

       Stay in an active body state to aid listening

       Fight distractions

Group exercise 2: All the members sit in a circle. The first member starts by speaking for three minutes on the topic. Then onwards, every member starts speaking by first summarizing the main points of the previous member and then stating his own views on the topic.

SKILL 3- SPEAKING:

Many students do not get a chance to speak during the GD because of

       Shyness

       Lack of content

Here are some things you can do

       The shyness in speaking can be removed by attending as many mock GDs as possible. You can also play games such as ‘Just a minute’ (or ‘got a minute’) to develop your listening and speaking in a fun way.

       Although you should prepare for your content thoroughly by reading newspapers, magazines journals etc., if you are still given a topic about which you know nothing you can develop some of the content on the spot by attacking the problem from these seven viewpoints:

Historical: is the problem similar to something in the past? Has the problem occurred before? When did it start? Etc.

Economical: is there any economic relevance/ impact of the problem?

Educational

Sectoral (rural/ urban)

Societal

Gender-based

Demographical (age wise)

With practice, you will find that you can always generate some content through at least 2 or 3 of these viewpoints.

However, there are some points to be observed while speaking in a group. Here are eight important, yet often overlooked, tips on speaking well as a meeting participant.

Keep it upbeat. Speech tips and body language aside, nothing is more critical to constructive give-and-take in a GD than emphasizing the upside. Rather than criticizing, stay focused on the implicit value of what someone else says. It's not just Pollyanish. Try keeping score between positive comments and those designed more to sting than support. Stay solution focused, offering up twice as many positive comments as you do negative. When it's possible, affirm others' ideas by using active and constructive feedback. For example: 'I really like Bill's idea on how to use a different approach when responding to customer complaints.

 

Talk to the entire group. Don't make the make the mistake of speaking/replying to a single person. When speaking in a group, move your eyes around and talk to anyone who's listening to what you have to say. When responding to a question, address the entire group, not just the person who asked the question. In this way, everyone feels included.

 

Mirror the tenor of the discussion. Another discussion basic is establishing a comfortable atmosphere where everyone feels at ease. One effective way to achieve that is to establish a consistency in communication. If, for instance, most participants are keeping their remarks short, do the same. If their tone is low and reserved, follow their lead. The point is not to mindlessly mimic but, rather, to affirm and contribute to the overall tenor of the meeting. And that makes for productive and efficient give and take. You can also mirror other behaviors such as leaning forward, crossing your legs and other movements.

 

Don't be a time hog. Anyone speaking in a GD wants to take enough time to identify and, if need be, dissect the point he's trying to convey. But it's all too easy to slip into a filibuster. Be thorough, but don't take so much time to get your message across that you lose others' attention or, even worse, alienate someone who may be waiting their turn to talk. Again, if others are being succinct, try to do the same. If need be, keep an eye on your watch when you've got the floor so a comment meant to be short doesn't dissolve into a diatribe.

 

Check the cliches and rhetoric. A central tenet of powerful communication is being as clear as possible. Don't muddy your message by wallowing in tired catch phrases or too many rhetorical questions that don't advance the discussion.

 

Be aware of your body. Not everything you convey to others comes by way of your mouth. How you say what you say is equally telling in your ability to share your thoughts with others. Here are a few body language precepts you may wish to embrace (pun definitely intended): Don't limit supportive interaction to just what you say. Show it by nodding your head, making eye contact, raising your eyebrows and making other gestures that demonstrate that your interest and involvement in the discussion aren't mere lip service.

 

 

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