Group Discussions are an important part of the short-listing process for admission to B-Schools.
Why? Because business management is essentially a group activity and working with groups is perhaps the most important parameter of career success as a manager.
These are the four main areas tested in your GD:
ii. Communication skills
iii. Group dynamics
Content is a combination of knowledge and the ability to create coherent, logical arguments on the basis of that knowledge. Merely memorising facts is pointless. We need an in-depth understanding of various issues as well as the ability to analyse the topic and build arguments.
For example, take the topic 'Are peace talks between India and Pakistan useless or useful?' The candidate should be clearly aware that this is not a test of patriotism. Nor should he or she forget that the purpose of the discussion is getting into a good B-School, and that his or her influence on India's foreign policy is zilch. So, an emotional response would, in all probability, get you disqualified.
Go for a balanced response like, "Even though little has resulted from talks, it is certainly good to see the talks continue." Please remember that your opinion does not matter. The depth of knowledge and logical analysis you show is critical. Unfortunately, such analytical skills are rarely taught at the school and graduate level, so learn and practise first.
ii. Communication skills
Communication is a two-way process, and the role of the listener is critical.
- The listener has his own interpretation of what you say. Unless you listen to him, you cannot figure out whether he or she has understood you.
- Unless you listen, the points you make may not fit in with points made by others. It is easy for an experienced evaluator (moderator) to realise you aren't listening.
Besides listening, you also need the ability to:
- Express your ideas in a clear and concise manner.
- Build on others' points.
- Sum up the discussion made by the entire group.
iii. Group dynamics
As mentioned before, a GD is a formal peer group situation and tests your behaviour as well as your influence on the group. Formal language and mutual respect are obvious requirements. In addition, you need to have:
- Willingness to listen and discuss various points of view. Do not take strong views in the beginning itself; try and analyse the pros and cons of a situation.
- Learn to disagree politely, if required. In fact, it is far better to put forward your point of view without specifically saying 'I disagree' or 'You're wrong'.
- Show appreciation for good points made by others. You can make a positive contribution by agreeing to and expanding an argument made by someone else.
- Size the opportunity to make a summary near the end or, even better, a part summary. Partial agreement or part consensus is a sign of the group's progress. Complete agreement is impossible in the timeframe allotted.
One of the most common misconceptions about leadership is that it is all about controlling the group. However, for the GDs we are talking about, leadership is all about giving direction to the group in terms of content.
It is about initiating the discussion and suggesting a path on which the group can continue the discussion.
A good leader is one who allows others to express their views and channels the discussion to a probable decision or conclusion on the given topic.
Types of GDs
~ Knowledge intensive: Here, the background knowledge of a subject is required for effective participation (for example: Should India go in for full convertibility of the rupee?).
~ Non-knowledge intensive: Requires structured thinking, but subject knowledge is not required (for example: Do women make better managers?)
~ Abstract: Requires out-of-the-box thinking, analogy and example-based discussion (For example: Money is sweeter than honey, blue is better than red).
ii. Case studies
A structured discussion of a specific situation is given as a case. Sometimes, you will be asked to enact a role play where each participant is allotted a role to play, with relevance to the case study.
iii. Group tasks
These are an extension of case studies where specific objectives are to be achieved as a group.
While there is a great deal of variety in the methodology of conducting a Group Discussion, let's discuss the methodology commonly used for B-School selections.
Normally 8-10 students are taken as a group, though in some cases, up to 16 people may be included in a group. The GD lasts for 10-15 minutes.
For a topic-based GD, 2-3 minutes of thinking time may be given; though the group is often told to start right away. For case studies, however, about 15 minutes is given.
The evaluation is done by one or two experts, usually professors from the B-School itself. Please remember that these people are experts with a lot of experience and can be counted upon to observe all details, even if the GD is chaotic.
The candidates may be seated in a circle or in a rectangular arrangement, with or without a table. Seating arrangements may be prefixed or there may be free seating.
The discussion may be stopped at the set time or even earlier. A conclusion or consensus may be asked for, though it usually does not occur. A written or oral summary may asked for at the end from each candidate.
How to prepare?
~ Develop subject knowledge on current affairs, general awareness and business trends.
~ Structure arguments on selected topics, considering both sides to the argument.
~ Plan for short and lucid points.
~ GD skills cannot be learned from books. Get into practice groups.
~ Get skilled people to observe and give feedback.
~ Spend a lot of time analysing each GD performance. Plan specific improvements
Rahul Reddy is an alumnus of IIM-C and the director of the Kolkata centre of T.I.M.E. He has over four years of experience training students for CAT, GD and Personal Interviews.