Cracking Group Discussions

Written by Dr. Himanshu Rai, Ex-CAT Convenor & Dean MISB Bocconi – Bocconi India. 

Growing up, I was often encouraged to read ‘How to win friends and influence people’. And then the 7 Habits (of highly effective people) happened – which was the next big thing. In its wake spawned a new genre: self-help.

That’s when a strange kind of mutation began. From being prescribed ‘Chicken soup for the soul’ to being asked, ‘Who will cry when you die’ to being advised on ‘fifty ways to get rich’, the focus changed to the malaise, moving farther and farther away from what caused it.

What the first two books primarily, albeit imperfectly, and at least now controversially (how to win…) address are communication issues. Great leaders are good communicators. Great negotiators are good communicators. A good, successful movie or an ad campaign is an exercise in communicating successfully. So is a story told so well it changes your life. The big word is communication.

Communication, that area which also encompasses one of the greatest fears to plague mankind: Among the fear of WMDs and the fear of death, is the fear of speaking in public claiming its pride of place. Also, as it happens to be, it is a subject near which engineers and accountants alike go week-kneed. I have seen this fear at play, strike at the best in their fields and leave them cowering. I find this especially unfortunate when at the other end of the sword is a meritorious student facing a CAT/GMAT/CMAT panel.

Communication is crucial to our success in any walk of life, but particularly so in front of a CAT/GMAT/CMAT panel, and that too after near-perfect scores.

I hope the points I have detailed below will help aspirants get through their GDs and PIs.

For Group Discussions:

Tips: Usually institutes test you on your:

1) Analytical ability: ability to understand the subject up for discussion, your ability to justify your stand if necessary.

2) Communication skills: Your ability to put across your view in a coherent manner; your timing for tabling your point, issuing clarifications, questioning or challenging some viewpoint, and finally, your presence of mind.

3) Ability to participate in a group: Your sense of civility when dealing with a group of people, politeness in not cutting another’s words or statement, fairness in not hogging the limelight, your forthrightness in admitting to lack of knowledge about certain weak areas, etc. Please bear in mind that the observers are observing not just the intellectual worth of your statements and analyses as well as the delivery, but also about how your carry yourself through the GD, even whether your verbal input and non-verbal cues match.

What to do during a GD:

.Take the head count and calculate your time based on averages

.Take a few deep breaths and a glass of water before you sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Acknowledge your moderators/supervisors.

.No special points are awarded for starting first if you do not have a solid viewpoint or a contribution to make that would steer the GD into the right direction. So, do lead but only when you have something truly worthy to lead with.

.Dissect the topic thoroughly in your mind, consider all possible angles that come to your mind

.If you don’t know much about the topic, wait till some people have spoken. If need be, admit to what you did not know in case you have to ask questions. Also, thank the one who offers a useful explanation.

.In case you feel someone going on a tangent while responding to something, especially because of having misunderstood the subject, you could point out the difference while not being patronizing.

.When you talk, try to stick to the most solid points; also, don’t try to put in several points simultaneously.

.Look at everyone turn by turn, when you speak

.If you differ with someone, express your differences politely.

.Understand that it is a GD, not elocution. You are to understand one another well, respond accordingly, and try to attain an outcome in a constructive manner. A GD is neither a contest, nor a showdown. Pay attention to what others are saying.

.If you find yourself leading the GD, don’t play the part too actively that you end up crowding out genuine responses. Step in only if you see the quality of discussion deteriorating or if it is going wayward.

.Do not prompt someone else to speak. Stick to your own agenda.

.Address people respectfully. If you know the names of co-participants, call them by their names but also make it clear whom do you mean at the time.

Originally published – 

Comment on the article for specific insights or Inputs, we shall be soon releasing “Acing Personal Interviews”.