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How to be successful in a group discussion?

It is said that to find the remedy for any problem, one should first seek out its causes. This also applies to group discussions. Most of the candidates who participate in a group discussion do not understand the real purpose behind this test. They are not aware of the attributes or qualities they have to display in order to emerge successful in a group discussion. Most candidates hold the erroneous view that their debating quality is being tested or that they have to exhibit their excellence in arguments or their capacity to dominate others in the group. The result of this misconception is that many good candidates, who are otherwise intelligent, do not get selected in group discussions because they make some common mistakes. One of the most common mistakes is that they feel they must dominate the other members of the group during the discussion. They believe that effective speaking means not allowing other members to speak and to take the maximum time for themselves.
Another reason for failure in group discussions is that the participants often do not argue their points logically and are unable to support their arguments. Sometimes they try to contradict a certain point without giving reasons. Some participants keep interrupting while others are speaking, thus not allowing other participants to express their views. Some participants believe that by speaking in a louder voice or using their vocal cords to the highest pitch, they will be able to dominate in a group discussion. All these factors contribute to ultimate failure in the group discussion.
You must first learn the following basics of group discussions to be successful.

Decide Your Strategy

Someone has said that a group discussion is a battle in which you fire arguments instead of bullets. In other words, like a soldier you should know how and when to fire. Once the topic for discussion is selected and the examiner gives the signal to commence discussion, you should immediately decide your strategy and how you are going to implement it. You have to decide whether you are going to speak in favour or against the particular issue. You should think of arguments with examples to support them in advance. If you plan to disagree or speak against it, you should be able to explain why and try to convince the members of your point of view.

Mind Your Language and Behaviour

Try to maintain a serious, sophisticated and decent style of language and behaviour throughout. You have to be courteous as well as tactful. Do not bluntly say, “No, you are wrong” or “No, what you are saying is baseless”. Such an approach indicates negative behaviour. Instead say, “You may be correct, but….” Disagree without sounding rude or losing your temper. Remember, you are being observed by the examiner.

Be a Good Listener

Wilson Mizner has said, “A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” A good listener is not someone who has nothing to say. “A good listener is a good talker with a sore throat,” according to Katherine Whitehorn. While any participant is speaking, try to listen attentively and do not interrupt the participant unless he/she has finished his/her argument. In a group discussion, every participant has to speak and listen to each other, otherwise the discussion will become meaningless and irrelevant.

Don’t Make Fun of Other Participants

You must know when to contradict and interrupt the other participants while also ensuring that the discussion remains friendly and cordial. If you are criticizing an argument extended by another participant, do not make fun of him/her and laugh away what he/she is saying by dismissing it as rubbish. As has been said earlier, be courteous and tactful. Be polite while rejecting or contradicting the arguments of other participants. For example, say “I beg to differ” and then give your reasons to support your argument. Simply disagreeing violently without substantiating it with valid reasons is meaningless.

Support Your Argument with Valid Reasons

If you are supporting an argument or you plan to agree with something, then your support should be comprehensive. You must give valid reasons as to why you are supporting a particular point and how it is different from those that have already been extended by other participants.

Take Criticism Positively and Hold on to Your Temper

If any member of the group criticizes your views, do not get ­upset. Don’t get angry if your argument is not accepted. “Anger is a brief madness,” said Horace. Take the criticism positively and if you ­accept it, then say yes, otherwise give your own reasons to convince the participant criticizing you. You must remember that the person who criticizes you unfairly shows himself in poor light. This will help you curb the instinct to retaliate.

Make Maximum Contribution

Make sure that you make maximum contribution. Participate wholeheartedly and continuously throughout the discussion. The moment you get an opportunity to intervene take it immediately and say your bit otherwise it will be difficult to steer the discussion back on a ­particular point. But make sure whatever you say is relevant and logical in view of the discussion being carried on.

Show Leadership and Co-ordinating Ability

Your leadership qualities are evaluated in a group discussion. You must therefore give ample opportunities to the examiner to test your leadership ability. You should also be able to influence your group-mates to accept your leadership. James F. Lincoln has said, “A strong leader knows that if he develops his associates he will be even ­stronger.” Therefore, try to carry your group-mates with you.


MYTH: There is no way one can prepare for the GDs.
FACT: No, you can start practicing your discussion skills in an informal setting or with a small group. Start with asking questions. Simultaneously, start preparing notes, especially ‘for-and-against views’, on various hot topics, contemporary issues, conventional discussion topics.

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