Group discussions (GD) are conducted by most B-schools as a part of their selection process. The purpose of conducting a GD is to check the candidate’s knowledge base, communication skills, team spirit and leadership skills.
In a GD, a group of eight to 12 candidates are seated in a semi-circular/circular arrangement and are assigned a topic. They need to discuss this topic in detail, from various aspects, for 10 to 15 minutes. This discussion is observed by a jury panel, of not less than two persons, which then awards marks to each participant based on various parameters.
Group discussions can be of two types: Topic based discussions and case study-based discussions.
Topic-based group discussion: In a topic-based GD, candidates are given various topics that range from general knowledge to abstract issues to those involving incidents of importance.
Candidates are expected to discuss and analyse the positives and negatives of the given topic, and then arrive at a decisive conclusion.
In a group discussion, it is advised that candidates don’t take a rigid stance on any topic, without having examined the rationality of the topic from all angles. Making decisions or statements in a hurry or in anxiety, can lead to potential candidates losing out.
Case study-based group discussion: Here, candidates are given a situation — a business, social, educational or political one — which involves decision-making to an extent, and they are asked to discuss the same with their co-participants and arrive at a solution amicably. Participants must not try to supress their peers while making a point, because this can negatively reflect on their communication skills.
Discussion based on abstract topics: It has been generally obeserved that potential candidates get worried about group discussions based on abstract topics, as these do not seem to make sense on first reading.
For instance, ‘Red is Green’, is a fine example of an abstract topic that was once assigned to a group of students at a well-known business school. Now, let’s try to answer this: Is red really green or is it different?
Since both colours, are totally different from one another, how can a potential candidate discuss this topic? Well, the trick here is to link whatever has been given in the topic to something that is tangible.
Do red and green represent something in our daily lives or in proverbs or in thought processes? Of course they do. Red and green represent danger/safety, passion/envy, communism/ environmentalism and so on. Now having established the link between the topic and ideas that candidates are familiar with, they should build their arguments and present the same to the group.
Knowledge-based topics assume that the candidate has some information on current issues of importance. Candidates should offer a balanced view on the topic and not take an extreme position unless they can back it with solid facts and examples.
In a case study-based GD, the first thing a candidate must do is identify the protagonist in the situation. Once identified, the group should identify the underlying problem and then the possible solutions.
While each of these discussion types needs to be handled differently, the basic skill set remains the same.
A candidate should be well-informed about the topic and must come up with valid points that can help him or her in taking part in the discussion.
Creating and practising an ‘Idea Generation’ template will help candidates in generating points during the discussion. This template should be such that, it can be used for any topic that may be assigned to the candidate. A student’s communication (both verbal and non-verbal), with the group members during a discussion, must be polite.
Lastly, candidates must always address their points to other members in the group and not to the panel members who are evaluating them.
The author is a marketing manager, T.I.M.E. Mumbai