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Group Discussion

This page contains instructions of how to do well in the group discussion. It will describe what the observing staff are looking for from you and what you can do to prepare. Having chaired and observed this activity on numerous occasions I have realised that there are certain methods of interacting and ways of expressing your thoughts in a clear and compelling manner. Get this right and you will shine.

Purpose

The group discussion is usually the first activity to take place on the second day of the AOSB Main Board. It is used as an ice breaker, stimulating you to interact with the other candidates. The purpose of this exercise is to assess your powers of communication (speaking and listening), together with your knowledge of current affairs and most importantly, your ability to form an opinion and influence the other candidates.

Format

You will be split to groups of 8 and seated in a closed circle facing one another. The observing Officers will be positioned at the sides of the room and will have minimal input once the discussion has begun. All candidates will be given the opportunity to select a discussion topic from a pre-defined list which they will be required to introduce. The discussion subjects will be drawn from newsworthy current affairs, or legacy controversial issues.  Rest assured that all are likely to centre on a provocative, moral or contentious issue which generate opposing opinions. Once you have made your selection you will be given a short period of time to gather your thoughts and formulate how you will introduce the issue to the group together with your opening opinions and argument. Each candidate will lead the discussion of their chosen topic for 5 minutes.

What the observers are looking for

It is highly unlikely that there will be any single correct answer to the issues you will be prompted to introduce and discuss. The observers will be more interested in your ability to form logical and reasoned opinions and arguments together with your ability to communicate your ideas to the group. You must demonstrate your ability to influence the other members of the group and bring others round to your way of thinking; the raw essence of leadership.

The observers will be looking for you to demonstrate your active intelligence; this being a combination of your ability to consider an issue and quickly form a logical opinion or attitude based on your knowledge and understanding of the issue.

Advice

The best way to prepare for the group discussion is to ensure that you are up to date with current affairs and significant issues in the media. Your research should go beyond sitting in front of Sky News and you should ensure that you find the time to read a quality newspaper on a daily basis or better still subscribe to …

Look Like you give a Damn

Be mindful of your body language throughout the discussion process. Simple things such as your posture and sitting position will speak volumes about your attentiveness and willingness to participate. I once observed a Potential Officer sit with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands throughout the conversation – perhaps he really was bored. It didn’t go down well. You should sit upright in your chair, perhaps leaning slightly forward to engage with the other candidates in the circle. Avoid crossing your arms across your chest, sitting back in your chair, feet outstretched – yes I’ve seen that too. Positive body language and an open posture will enable you to build a rapport with the other candidates and increase your presence among the group.

Find Your Voice

Throughout the discussion the single most important factor to be aware of is that if you say or do nothing, you make selection impossible. You must have the confidence to be able to take a view on an issue and communicate the reasoning behind your opinion to your peers. You must ensure that you make frequent and valid contributions to the discussion. You will achieve nothing if you simply sit and observe the other candidates dominate the conversation; you must get stuck in.

Of course, you will not be expected to have an equal input into every discussion; there will probably be some that you know absolutely nothing about. The key here is to take a moment to listen to what the other candidates have to say. You will quickly glean the gist of the topic and be able to contribute accordingly. Do not feel compelled to jump in headfirst and take a certain view simply in order to be first to speak. If you are struggling to think of anything interesting to contribute you may consider posing a thought provoking question to the group, perhaps to prompt them to consider a factor that the discussion has thus far neglected to explore. Make sure that your comments add value, you will gain little credit for re-wording what has already been said or reaffirming the obvious.

Challenge Opinions

You will also be judged on your ability to challenge the opinions of others and offer reasoned arguments that support the view you have taken. You should not challenge an argument for the simply for the purpose of being pedantic in an attempt to win points with the observer. Instead, try to think of the issue from different points of view, considering the different views and opinions of the parties involved.

Be sure to furnish your comments with examples from your own experience and observations. This will add legitimacy to your argument and aid you in win the trust and respect of your peers.

Support Others

If you really want to win points and establish yourself as a team player you should actively support the other candidates. Your willingness to assist others will speak volumes about your character and compassion for others. If you notice that a particular candidate has failed to make a significant input to the conversation, or is struggling to find the confidence to participate, do not be afraid to help them out. You can do this by actively pulling them into the discussion, perhaps by asking their opinion or re-enforcing something they may have mentioned earlier and asking them to elaborate.

Etiquette

Making jokes or inappropriate comments that may make it appear that you are not taking the exercise seriously. You should not Interrupt or speak over other candidates. You will be judged on your ability to listen as well as speak and you must take care not to insult or upset the other candidates. Achieving a small victory at the expense of someone else will not work to your advantage. Remember that there is a certain element of sportsman ship involved in every AOSB assessment.

Summary