There are likely to be times in life when you have to work in a group (maybe many times). You may have to lead a discussion as part of a school assignment or in a work setting. An effective group discussion will involve all participants, so be sure to get the opinion of others by encouraging silent participants to share. It is just as important that you value the opinion and all the contributions of each member, for which you will have to record everything that is communicated on paper. Be receptive to new topics as they arise, but steer the discussion toward a kind of conclusion. With a little knowledge and a perceptive and proactive attitude, you can lead a great group discussion.
Part 1 of 3: Start the discussion
Step 1. Let everyone introduce themselves
To start a group discussion, you will need to make sure that everyone is comfortable. A good way to break the ice is to let them introduce themselves. In this way, you will start the discussion with everyone knowing a little more about the other participants.
- You can move around the room to have everyone say their name. You may have to ask each one to explain why they are going to participate in the discussion.
- In a class, an icebreaker activity might help. For example, you could have everyone mention their favorite ice cream flavor.
Step 2. Establish some ground rules
Before starting the discussion, make sure everyone knows the rules of conduct. You must conduct the discussion with firmly established limits of respect.
- Recommend to everyone that they treat others with respect. Make it clear that they should not use nicknames, make personal attacks, or use obscene language. You can debate with someone about her idea or opinion, but you cannot argue with her on a personal level.
- Make sure people know not to interrupt. Remind everyone that the goal of this discussion is for everyone to share equally.
- Remind everyone to stay on top of the weather and make their points brief, so everyone has a chance to speak.
- Encourage people to take their comments seriously and not get defensive if someone disagrees.
Step 3. Explain the topic
Usually a group discussion will be based on a central theme. Even if the participants know the topic, give them a quick reminder before the discussion begins.
- You can introduce the topic by asking questions. For example, say something like "Why are we all here?" This can be helpful if you are addressing a conflict or making plans for an event that are uncertain.
- You can also present the idea quickly. Say something like "As you know, today in class we are going to talk about gun control."
Step 4. Ask open-ended questions to get started
You should not ask questions that can only be answered with a "yes" or a "no", especially at the beginning. Initial questions should not have a right or wrong answer, as this will get people to start the discussion.
- The questions should encourage people to share more meaningful thoughts and ideas. Questions can be confusing for participants. Many of them may not know the answers right away, which will encourage them to think during the discussion.
- For example, “What factor in our culture contributes to gun violence? What are the ways in which we can reduce the problem? These questions are complicated and can have many answers.
Part 2 of 3: Facilitate an Open Conversation
Step 1. Direct participants to new ideas when necessary
You can help advance the discussion by presenting new ideas. If a participant makes an important point, you can step in to try to examine that idea in more detail.
- You want to make sure that the discussion doesn't focus on a single topic for too long, so if they stay in a single talking point, see what new ideas are generated. When you hear a possible new idea, you can encourage the group to discuss it.
- For example, if a student mentions the second amendment during the gun control debate. You will have to delve into the history and implications of this amendment. You can say something like, “Hey, I think Bryce made a fantastic point. What can you say about the second amendment? How does it affect our relationship with guns in the US?
Step 2. Ask participants follow-up questions
Initially, people may give shallow answers to the questions. If this is a problem, encourage them to open up more. After someone shares their answer, ask them a question to encourage them to analyze their opinion further.
- These questions should generally be ambiguous. You can say something like “Really? Why do you think like that?". You can also say "What do you think about this fact?"
- Pay attention to your tone. You want to sound friendly and curious, rather than bossy. If you use a stiff tone, "Why do you think like that?" It may sound like you disagree. When you use a light tone, you will just look like you are curious to get new information.
Step 3. Encourage everyone to participate
Group discussions work if everyone shares. Some participants may be hesitant to open up, so work on creating an environment where everyone can comfortably share.
- If you break the discussion into small groups for a moment, this can encourage more participation. You can tell the participants to discuss the problem with the person next to them for 5 minutes. Then you can bring the group back together and ask everyone to comment on the discussions they have had.
- Also, you should make it clear that everyone's opinion is important. Write everyone's comment on a board. Encourage students to talk about other people's comments. If a participant has made a good point, but has been silent for a moment, return to their point to move the discussion forward.
Step 4. Advance the discussion as needed
Usually, you will have a certain type of agenda for a group discussion. Participants will have to come to a certain type of conclusion, agreement or knowledge. As the discussion continues, focus on leading it to a conclusion.
- Keep asking questions throughout it. In addition to asking the participants a question, ask the group questions that complicate the problem.
- For example, say, “While we all disagree about what the second amendment means, how important is it? On a cultural level, people interpret it in a specific way. Is cultural interpretation more important than literal meaning?
- Get the participants to clarify things for you. Getting more information from an opinion can help you come up with new ideas, leading to new information for discussion. You can say something like, "I understand that you feel that banning automatic weapons would reduce gun violence, but can you tell me more about what makes you think that way?"
Step 5. Summarize the discussion
You should review the discussion briefly when it reaches its end. What have they all learned? Have you come to any conclusion?
- Make sure everyone understands the important points. You can say something like "I understand that half of you believe that we have the right to own weapons to protect ourselves, but the other half believe that there should be stricter restrictions."
- Have the group review the discussion from there. Ask open-ended questions that make them reflect on what everyone has learned. Can you tell them “Has their opinion on gun control changed? When you leave class, what position do you think you will have on the problem when you talk about it again in the future?
Part 3 of 3: Dealing With Problems
Step 1. Don't let one person or group dominate the discussion
You will often have a mixed group. Some people will be shy and withdrawn, while others will not. The more outgoing members can sometimes dominate the discussion, and you will need to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak.
- If a group has been making the same point for a long time, try to interrupt them in a respectful way. For example, say, "I think these issues are important, but I want to give some time to other factors surrounding this discussion."
- Try to redirect the discussion towards shy people. You can say something like “Lucy made an interesting point earlier. Maybe we can take it up again. "
Step 2. Deal with participants who talk too much
Sometimes there will be a single person who is very assertive and usually dominates the conversation. Even if you make good points, it's important that you don't let one person dominate the discussion.
- Ask the person who talks a lot to act as an observer for a few minutes. For example, say something like, “John, you seem to have strong opinions. Why don't you just watch for a few minutes? Take notes on the discussion. You can share them later, and we will see how the discussion has shaped your views. "
- You can also use the opinion of the dominant person to steer the conversation in a new direction. For example, say, “John has mentioned gun and concealment laws several times, and he seems to be very passionate about it. Let's talk for a moment about why people have strong opinions about these laws. "
Step 3. Reduce conflicts
If you're dealing with a sensitive topic, people might get furious. If a conversation starts to get conflicted or tense, find ways to ease the tension.
- Ask people who are arguing to support their opinions using an outside authority. This will make the discussion more objective and less personal.
- Ask people to be aware of the differences in their values. Say something like, “I feel like you both have different values. Can we talk about it?
- You can also record both positions on the discussion on the board. Encourage participants to continue discussing the point, but in a respectful way. Say something like, "I think we should talk about it, as we all have a strong opinion, but let's take turns looking at each other's points of view with respect."
Step 4. Help shy participants share their opinions
Sometimes the smartest participants will be the shyest. You want to make sure that those who are uncomfortable sharing do so. It is important that you listen to everyone's opinion.
- You can ask shy participants directly. You can say something like "Molly, why don't you tell us what you think?"
- You can also have everyone write down their answers to a question and then talk about it. A nervous participant might feel more comfortable speaking if they have their idea written down.