14 things you MUST AVOID at a Group Discussion
In the first part, Charanpreet Singh spoke about 15 blunders to avoid at a B-school GD. In the second part here, he shares an additional list of 14 things you must avoid at a Group Discussion if you want to make the right impression. Illustrations by Uttam Ghosh
You probably read and hear a lot about what to do right at an MBA admissions group discussion.
This article, however, is about the biggest group discussion fails that you absolutely should avoid when participating in a GD.
1. Making sweeping statements
Sweeping statements are strong, one-sided views of the world that lack factual support.
Students love making these kinds of statements as they sound good; an assertion is no good unless you can back it up with facts and/or logical reasoning.
Think through a point before you offer it for discussion -- you are then ready to support it if required.
The author is Associate Dean, Praxis Business School, Kolkata. Educated at IIT Kanpur and University of Iowa, he was earlier Country Manager, Marketing at Hewlett Packard.
2. Becoming emotional
A GD is an artificially constructed situation that can be quite stressful at times.
There could be comments made by others in the group that you find outrageous or plain unacceptable.
If your peers manage to get you excited and emotional, they would have scored a couple of decisive points against you.
The mature way to handle the situation is to control your emotions and respond on the basis of facts and sound logical constructs. Do not lose your composure and be polite and graceful.
3. Compromising content for form
In GDs, what you say is the most important component of your performance.
The other component, ie, how you say what you say, is important, but comes into play only once your speech is strong in its content.
Students often focus on their way of speaking and the accent, etc -- more of that later -- you need to focus on finding significant things to say.
4. Over-quoting statistics
Facts and figures are useful in supporting your assertion; they cannot be your assertion.
Getting into too many details and quoting data extensively reduce the impact of your contribution.
It also shows you as someone who is likely to miss the wood for the trees.
By all means quote facts and figures -- but only when you feel that the quoted data will add value to the discussion and act as a support to your argument.
5. Using complex English words and structure
The best way to ensure that the group loses interest in you is to present your opinion in a convoluted, complicated manner, using obscure English and long, never-ending sentences.
The simpler your communication, the better will be the reception by the group.
If others understand easily what you are saying and if it makes sense to them, they will listen to you and respond.
6. Speaking fast
English as a language does not lend itself to being spoken at breakneck speed.
In a GD, candidates feel the compulsion to speak very fast, hoping that would enable them to say more in the limited airtime that they are likely to get. Wrong assumption.
People who speak very fast lose track of what they are saying, and definitely lose their audience.
Speak slowly and deliberately -- make every word count.
7. Using a false accent
Perfectly normal students sometimes adopt the most fake of accents when they speak English in a formal situation.
Avoid doing this -- be yourself and speak the way you would normally speak (or slower than you normally speak) -- and please don't start sounding like an uneducated Westerner.
8. Being over-polite and over-doing the smiling part
As I have said earlier, be yourself -- that is the best way to be in GDs and PIs.
Over-polite behaviour is usually looked at with suspicion; plus, an artificial fixed smile with lots of nodding and shaking of the head does not endear you to the group -- it usually ends up irritating the others.
9. Trying hard to be funny
The verdict here is very simple -- either you have a sense of humour or you don't.
Focussed efforts to create humour often end up in people laughing at you rather than with you.
Also, the best form of humour is self-deprecating -- any comments that compromise a community or section of people are a big no.
If you are naturally a witty person, go ahead and demonstrate that skill. If you are not, stick to the middle path.
10. Looking at the moderator while speaking
Remember, you are a part of the group and you need to look at your group members while addressing them.
Gazing at the floor, ceiling or the moderator are all invalid options.
The moderator is a 'fly-on-the-wall' and is observing the group -- you have to ignore his presence.
Frequent glances in the direction of the moderator betray a sense of insecurity -- it is as if you seek support from him.
11. Digressing from the topic
While it's good to broaden the scope of the discussion, you need to ensure that you don't move too far away from the topic.
In addition to taking up precious airtime, you may end up guiding the entire discussion on a parallel course.
In fact, your role as a good team player is to bring the conversation back on course in case you sense that it is floundering.
12. Underestimating the importance of body-language
As Peter Drucker says, the most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.
The way you sit, use your personal space, establish eye-contact and 'appear' to people says a lot more about you than you would believe.
It is therefore perilous to not be aware of how you present yourself to others.
13. Giving your opinion when asked to summarise
This is a very common phenomenon.
Students tend to voice their points of view about the subject when all that the moderator is asking them to do is give a summary of the discussion.
Desist from doing that – instead, take the group through the discussion journey, covering all the significant points made till then.
Make optimum use of this opportunity -- for a welcome change, no one can interrupt you so you have the floor to demonstrate your listening, analytical and articulation skills.
14. Not speaking at all
I kept this for the last.
This is the gravest crime you can commit in a GD -- irrespective of how alien the topic is, or how boisterous the group, you need to speak and you need to be heard.
Learn more about the topic as it gets discussed; seize the smallest opening in the discussion to make your entry; use the opportunity to make your point(s).
If you haven't spoken at all, you get no points.