DISCUSSION METHODS: There are two basic types of discussion methods; the conference method and the workshop method. The conference method involves meetings of staff members, usually from the same organization, and is convened to pass on information, communicate management policies or decisions, or to solve organizational problems. These meetings are usually held for only one or two days, and generally consist of large discussion groups. The workshop method, on the other hand, is usually utilized when there are participants from a range of companies meeting for periods of longer than two days, for the purpose of devoting their attention to a specific problem or shared interest. The discussion groups tend to be small, and techniques such as role playing, case study, critical incident are commonly used.

GROUP DISCUSSION GUIDELINES: 1. Planning and Preparation. Research and prepare your lesson plans beforehand, just as you would for a lecture. Identify your objectives, and check for the availability of materials and training rooms. 2. Opening the Session. A good beginning, with opening comments carefully made and discussion objectives clearly defined, will eliminate misunderstanding and lay the groundwork for the session. 3. Presenting the Topic. Specifically define the purpose of the discussion. State the problem with the use of visual aids, then identify its importance for the participants. 4. Conducting the Discussion. During the course of the discussion, the trainer should try to encourage full trainee participation, and the greatest possible self-expression from each individual. It is helpful to ask pertinent, leading questions, as well as to give occasional summaries. You must listen carefully and attentively, for even a small lapse in attention may allow the conversation to move in the wrong direction. 5. Summarize the Discussion. At the end of the discussion, restate highlights that occurred during the course of the session. Paraphrase any conclusions.

TRAINING THROUGH GROUP DISCUSSIONS: In the end, the only certain way to learn the art of handling discussions is to try them for yourself — see what works and what doesn’t, what seems to encourage new ideas and behavioral change and what serves only to use up your valuable time and that of trainees. The best guide for the beginner is to simply watch and listen, observe common rules of courtesy in speaking, and avoid an obviously manipulative role when you are influencing the course of the discussion. Once you have mastered the technique, you may find that you never want to use a lecture again!

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Have you ever seen a football game? Or have you ever been a part of a football team? These questions seem awkward and absurd when the issue at hand is "How to crack a Group Discussion to get into a top B-school". But through these questions, a student understands the nuances of a Group Discussion.

Simply emphasizing the cliché that a Group Discussion, or a GD as it is commonly called, is a group process or a team building exercise does not help students. As in a football game, we play like a team, passing the ball to each of the team members and aiming towards a common goal, similarly, in a GD, we work as a team incorporating views of different team members so as to reach a common goal.

A Group Discussion at a B-school can be defined as a formal discussion involving 10-12 participants in a group. A topic is given to them, some time is given to them to collect their thoughts and then the group is asked to discuss the topic for 20-25 minutes. The GD process is generally used by the B-schools to assess a candidate's personality traits. Most important personality traits that a candidate should possess to do well in a GD are: -

1. Team Player
It is very essential for a manager to be a team player because managers always work in teams. In the beginning of his career, a manager works as a team member and later on as a team leader. Management aspirants who lack team skills cannot be good managers. So B-schools give heavy weightage to this parameter.

2. Reasoning Ability
Reasoning ability plays an important role while expressing your opinions or ideas in a GD. Reasoning ability is building bridges between two ends. For example, an opinion like "Reduction in IIMs fee will affect its quality" can be better stated by demonstrating your reasoning ability and completing the missing links between fees and quality as "Reduction in IIMs fee will lead to less funds being invested on study material, student exchange programmes, research, student development activities, etc. More over, it costs money to attract good faculty, create good infrastructure and upgrade technology. With reduction in fees, less money will be available to perform these activities which will lead to deterioration in the quality of IIMs".

3. Leadership
There are three types of situations that can arise in a GD.
1. A GD where participants were not able to establish a proper rapport and do not speak much.
2. A GD where participants get emotionally charged and the GD is full of chaos.
3. A GD where participants discuss the topic assertively by touching upon all its nuances and try to reach the objective.

A leader is a person who facilitates the third type of situation in a GD. A leader has the following qualities: -

A leader shows direction to the group whenever group moves away from the topic.

He coordinates the effort of the different team members in the GD.

He contributes to the GD at regular intervals with valuable insights.

He also inspires and motivates team members to express their views.

Caution: Being only a coordinator in a GD does not help. Coordinating a GD is a secondary role. A person who is contributing well to the GD with his ideas and opinion can only act as a coordinator. Acting only as a coordinator is seen as a negative trait.

4. Flexibility
Flexibility means openness to other person's ideas and also being open to evaluation of your ideas. To demonstrate this personality trait, always remember "Never ever start your GD with a stand or a conclusion". For example, if the topic of a GD is "Should India go to war with Pakistan", some participants will get emotionally attached to the topic and take a stand either in favour or against the topic, i.e., "Yes, India should..." or "No, India should not..." By taking a stand, a person has already given a decision even without discussing the topic at hand or listening to the views of his team members.

More over, if a person who has taken a stand encounters an opposition with a very strong point at the 11th hour in a GD, he is in a typical catch22 situation: -

If he changes the stand, he is seen as a fickle-minded or a whimsical person.

If he does not change his stand, he is seen as an inflexible, stubborn and an obstinate person.

5. Assertiveness
Assertiveness means putting your point in the group in a very emphatic, positive and a confident manner. Participants often confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness. Aggressiveness is all about forcing your point on the other person. An aggressive person starts acting as a threat to the group. An aggressive person demonstrates a negative body language, where as an assertive person demonstrates a positive body language.

6. Initiative
A general trend amongst students is to start a GD and get that initial kitty of points ear-marked for the initiator, but initiating a GD is a high-risk high-return strategy. Initiate a GD only if you are well-versed with the topic. If you start a GD and fail to contribute at regular intervals, it gives an impression that you started the GD just for the sake of the initial points.

Also if you fumble stammer or quote wrong facts in the beginning, it works against you. Remember that you never ever get a second chance to create a first impression.

7. Creativity / Out-of-the-box thinking
An idea or a perspective, which open new horizons for the discussion on the GD topic, is highly appreciated. For example, while conducting a GD on "US invasion on Iraq", a participant came out with an innovative point related to the theory of "Euro vs Dollar", the point was put across so convincingly that it was discussed at length by the group. The participant who contributed this point found its place in the good books of the examiner.

8. Inspiring ability
A good group discussion should incorporate views of all the team members. If in a GD some of the team members want to express their ideas but are not getting an opportunity to do so, giving them an opportunity to express their ideas or opinions will be seen as a positive trait.

Caution: If a participant is not willing to speak, you are advised not to go out of the way by pointing him to express his views. This will insult him and will also hamper the flow of the GD.

9. Listening
Listening is a very important skill. It is said that humans have been gifted with two ears and one mouth. But only good listeners are not preferred. In a GD, there should be a proper balance between the expression of your ideas and imbibing ideas of others.

10. Awareness
In today's dynamic environment, a manager should be well-versed with both the micro and macro environment. Your awareness about your environment helps a lot in your GD content. The content of a GD carries maximum weightage. So awareness plays an important role in GD.

Caution: The content or awareness generally constitutes 40-50% marks of your GD.

Apart from these qualities, qualities like communication skills, confidence, and ability to think upon one's feet, which are self-explanatory, are also very important. If a candidate is able to demonstrate these personality traits in a group discussion, his chances of cracking a group discussion increases.

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