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Tips to ace Group Discussions

By S Hariharan
Last updated on: December 07, 2005 11:38 IST
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You have given the Common Entrance Test 2005.

The next step is the Group Discussion.

How aggressive can you get? What is the antidote for nervousness? How can you prepare for your GD?

To see the bigger picture, you first need to understand what a GD is all about, why institutes conduct it and how it differs from a debate.

What is a Group Discussion?

As the term itself suggests, a GD is a discussion, but most students misconstrue it to be a debate. They akin it to a wrestling match and try to score points over the other participants. Consequently, you find a 'fish market' situation in most GDs. What is actually expected in a GD is participation in a systematic way on a particular topic.

The prospect of a GD tends to leave most students petrified. You can get rid of that feeling of fear by remembering you have experienced group discussions right from childhood. Remember those heated discussions you had across the dinner table with family members, friends and relatives? Consciously or unconsciously, they have helped you learn a thing or two about discussing in a group. 

Your parents may have come across as the most heard and respected as they were much better well informed. Besides, instead of forcing their point of view on you, they heard you out and presented their points in a logical and methodical manner because they had the strength of content and courage of conviction.

As a result, you would have often felt the desire to prove that you were right and they were wrong. A bundle of angst would build within you.

Discard that feeling now. Remember, a GD is a discussion -- and not a debate -- between the members of a group.

Discussion versus debate

Human beings love debates because we like to win and see others lose. A debate is a perfect situation for expressing intense emotions. A GD, however, calls for a lot more maturity and logic.

The purpose of a GD, though conducted in a competitive mode, is not to establish you as a winner and others as losers. Its purpose, as far as you are concerned, is to help you come across as a person with sound, logical reasoning and the ability to respect another's viewpoint.

A critical difference between a GD and a debate is that, while a debate begins with two groups' bids to outwit each other, a discussion is evolutionary; this essentially means participants have the opportunity to refine their views in the course of the discussion. Thus, every member needs to contribute substantially and add to the existing knowledge base instead of pulling each other down.

The difference, thus, lies not just in style, but also in the mindset that is required to tackle either challenge.

Why institutes conduct a GD

How often have you called a friend in office to be told that he is in a meeting? Institutes conduct a GD because, as a manager, you will be required to attend and conduct innumerable meetings. A GD is a simulation of what you can expect in a meeting at your workplace.

Depending on the kind of profile you have and the company you work for, you will be part of meetings ranging from brand launches and employee performance appraisals to company financials, etc. For instance, if you have a meeting where senior employees are working out a strategy to launch a new soap in the market, this is what is expected of you before and during the meeting.

~ You will go well prepared for the meeting; this means you need to have sufficient information on the likely points of discussion.

~ During the meeting, you will let everyone have his say. When your turn comes, you will present your views forcefully and logically.

~ Whenever you disagree with somebody, you will present your points logically and makes sure everybody understands what you have to say.

~ You will always attack points and not people.  

~ You will carefully listen to other people's points and try to refine your own by using other people's inputs on the subject.

Project the same qualities during B-School admissions, where the purpose of the GD is to find out whether you possess the critical qualities needed to become an effective manager. While the written exam tests your comprehension and analytical skills, a GD tests you in the following:

  • Body language
  • Communication skills
  • Self confidence
  • Team skills
  • Listening ability
  • Ability to present your views logically
  • Time management

A GD is a wonderful challenge because you have a maximum of 20 minutes to show if you have it in you to become an effective manager.

How to gear up for a GD

The CAT was only the first hurdle. The action now moves to another stage, another day.

~ The most important thing from now on till the time of the 20-minute GD challenge is to build your knowledge base. You must have done your daily dose of reading -- newspapers, magazines, etc -- even as you were preparing for CAT. Continue with your reading; add to it if necessary. Analyse issues from various angles. 

~ Maintain a positive attitude. Stay motivated and excited about the upcoming challenge.

The Group Discussion and Personal Interview stage is also the most decisive one; a bad performance here can undo all the good work you put in CAT. So, continue to stay focused and competitive.

~ One of the most critical challenges of coming across as a good participant in a discussion is to have the ability to see things from the other person's viewpoint and respect it even if you strongly disagree.

Practice make perfect

~ As part of your preparation, you must participate in a few mock GDs. Run through these performances later, identify your areas of strength and areas for improvement and work on them consciously.

~ Success in a GD also depends on outgrowing old habits like indulging in small talk with a group of friends. Whenever you have a gathering of sorts, try not to indulge in loose talk. Focus on discussing a topic of current relevance. Thus, an informal gathering of friends can be converted into a GD practice session.

~ Whenever you come across fellow MBA aspirants, don't look upon them as competitors. Treat them as contributors to your success. You can share each other's strengths and thus iron out your own deficiencies. It makes a lot of sense for fellow MBA aspirants to get together and conduct mock GDs on various topics. This run-up to the actual GD should be a symbiotic effort rather than a parasitic one.

After each discussion, you must, as a group, analyse one another individually and suggest areas for improvement.  This way, you will also get exposed to your fellow aspirants' perspectives and broaden your thought process.

The skills you develop to ace your GD will prove to be an asset even after you begin your professional career.

S Hariharan is a corporate trainer and stress management specialist. He used to be associated with IMS Learning Resources.


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