The GD is an indicator of the confidence of a person as well as his ability to work in a group. Students are seated in a semicircle. A topic is given and after about a minute or so, the group is asked to proceed. Most discussions last for 10-12 minutes and the group size maybe anything up to 15 people. Some institutes are known to have about students in a group, which makes the task of contributing meaningfully all the more difficult. Almost all students will be anxious to make a mark and sometimes there may be pandemonium. Often, aggressive and loud-mouthed individuals may corner the discussion. One should have a strategy for dealing with such situations too.
There are no fixed rules for a GD. There is usually a scramble to be the first one to speak. The first speaker should mention the topic and make a preface by stating the issues. He should not commit himself but only speak the introduction. Later, one may make some interjections and make one’s stand clear. The group should move towards a consensus but so great is the tension to make one’s point that this may not happen at all. The idea is to exhibit some leadership qualities in steering the group while making one’s contribution.
If the group is too noisy, the facilitator may allot one minute to each candidate to sum up the discussion. This is an opportunity to put on one’s best effort. Without criticising the group, one can sum up and give one’s own views.
How is one rated in a GD? Firstly, a candidate is evaluated on how he speaks. Fluency plays a role here. But this is not enough: what matters is also whether any meaningful contribution was made by the person. Thirdly, a candidate will score if he shows leadership qualities, that is, of guiding the group towards a consensus. It is clear that one should have read a lot if he is to exhibit any depth of knowledge. If you have kept up with the newspapers and magazines, it will certainly be of help. Read carefully the debates and argumentative questions and chances are that you will get one of these topics for discussion. Read also items of economic importance and learn the figures of growth rates, GDP, deficits and so on.
How to contribute in a GD There are always two ways to look at any topic: for or against. Take the example of economic liberalisation. It can be argued that it was a very good thing since a number of foreign companies came into the country, bringing technology and efficiency. Employment and growth rate improved. The people could buy all the world class products which earlier had to be smuggled.
On the other hand, it can also be argued that all kinds of non-essential goods came into the country, like hamburgers, fried chicken and soda water. The infrastructure remained poor. There was no fresh growth as the MNCs simply bought the Indian companies. The technology they imported was outdated and most of the goods were so expensive that most people could not buy them. Liberalisation was trumpeted to be a good thing since politicians were using it to rake in personal wealth.
Whatever personal views one may have, it is important to know both sides of the argument. If the discussion is heading towards a particular direction, a candidate can take a totally opposite view and consequently will become the centre of the discussion. Of course one must be able to defend one’s viewpoints and therefore the need to have read widely. In the case of liberalisation, many people will defend it, since that is the viewpoint most often published in newspapers. If a student can bring in an opposing viewpoint and mention some convincing reasons, there is no reason why he will not be selected.
The trouble is that most students have not faced anything like the GD before. How is one to speak in a group of 15 strangers in a language we do not usually speak? One way is to read about a topic and then debate with parents, uncles or elder cousins. Tell them to ask you questions and try to trap you. The more you do this, the more clear will your own thoughts become. Of course practice in a larger group can be obtained only by joining a professional institute.
Another way to practice is to tape your speech. Try to speak about a topic for one full minute into the tape recorder. When you listen to the tape, you will be able to spot your mistakes, the points on which you falter and the words which you cannot easily speak. You will also be able to know whether you make any sense or not. Ask your friends to listen to the tape critically. Often, people can discover their weaknesses and speech impairments by this method.
You can also use mirror therapy. Stand before a mirror and speak extempore on any topic. Practice sounding assertive and firm. If you think your voice is soft or shrill, especially for girls, speak loudly in front of the mirror as if you are speaking to a stranger. Have a conversation with yourself. The mirror will tell you whether you have a habit of looking away while speaking. It will tell you about your body language also. These will be invaluable insights for participating in groups. You must look at all the members when addressing them. Looking away will cause you to lose your chance and the other person will carry on without letting you complete.
The mirror will also stop you from fidgeting, as many people are prone to do when they are speaking or are nervous. The therapy will be greatly enhanced if you can get your family members or friedns to practice with you.
Take care also that you do not stray from the topic. One way to avoid this is to write it down and keep it in front of you. By periodically looking at it, you can arrange your thoughts mentally. Remember that the interjections should always be in the form of a paragraph, not a question. Do not get into cross talk with any person in the group. Do not start quarreling if someone is against your stand. Instead, address the group.
In any GD, a common situation is that everybody wants to speak all at once and some individuals will dominate on account of their loudness. After all, everybody wants to make a mark in the limited time and it is survival of the fittest. Making an interjection at this stage is rather difficult.
Start off with meta-language: “I agree with you, but…” or “We have heard many viewpoints and I would like to say….” Do not lose your cool if nobody listens. It might pay to raise your voice for the opening sentence and then go ahead to make your point. Never criticise. If you do not agree with a particular viewpoint, start with: “You may be right, but I feel….” or even “I agree with you on certain points but there is a contrary opinion that….” Be polite but firm.
A common situation is that whatever points you have thought of have already been said by someone else. Do not become nervous should this happen. Instead, quickly assess the situation and the direction of the discussion. Take a few deep breaths and think whether anything has been missed out or whether you can turn the discussion around. Usually, there is always some uncovered ground and a person can steer the discussion in a new direction. “We have been discussing the positive side of the matter”, you can say. But there is a more serious dimension that we have ignored….” Chances are that you will become the centre of discussion after this. Even if you have not spoken during the first half of the session, you will have turned it around to your advantage.
Assume a leadership role if you do not have much to say. Give a chance to others who have not spoken. Guide the discussion by restoring order. Keep an eye on the time and after 10 minutes or so, begin summing up. This will show your leadership qualities. However, if you do not contribute in any other way, this strategy will not be sufficient to see you through.
Interjections should be made without being rude. Do not cut into mid-sentence. On the other hand, if someone cuts into your speech, politely ask to be heard: “I would like to complete what I was saying….” rather than rudely asking a person to shut up. Sometimes all these rules do not work, especially if the group is a rowdy one. Since it is survival of the fittest, do not be cowed down and make a bold effort to make yourself heard.
Why group discussions?
Most jobs and management schools do not want bookworms, but people who are outgoing and smart as well. Group discussions help check whether a person can articulate his thoughts and hold his ground.
What is observed?
* Leadership skills
* Consideration for others
* Aggressive behaviour
* Substantial viewpoints vs frivolous viewpoints
Some common topics for Group Discussions
Reservation for women is desirable
The impact of India’s nuclear tests
Advancement in science would lead to destruction
Who is responsible for ills of our country: politicians or bureaucrats?
Should there be a Presidential form of government?
Management is an art or science?
Are small States preferable to large States?
Is our culture under threat from cable television?
Environment vs development: which is preferable?
The role of multinationals in the economy
How to prepare?
* Form an informal group and discuss serious issues
* Discuss current affairs with parents or elders
* Watch news and current affairs programmes
* Read some good magazines. Read all the discussions featured in The Competition Master in the past months
* Always think of points in favour and against the topic
Some important tips
* Always be polite
* Never criticise
* Give others a chance to speak
* Make sure you intervene 4-5 times in the discussion
* Be coherent, make your point and let others discuss
* Do not be aggressive or loud
* Play the leader