Discussion Skills in Groups

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Discussion skills in groups
To be human is to interact with other people, to relate to others, often in groups. In groups a whole series of dynamics occur. People will have different reasons for being in a group, will want differing things out of it, may not get on equally well with everyone in that group.

Many of the groups we are in have a social purpose, meeting friends, going on holiday, working on a task. Whilst we may not think about it consciously we need a range of personal/social skills to relate well with others, to come to agreements, to achieve group goals.

This is particularly the case when we have to co-operate with others in order to achieve a specific work goal. In particular this occurs when working in small discussion groups, when having to make a presentation or when involved in social, political or environmental action. This document is about what you need to know and the skills that you need to develop in order to do that well.

1. FEELING SAFE
What comes up
I wonder what comes up for you when you find yourself in a group? Some of the feelings will probably be: Who are these people? Will I like them? Will they like me? What if someone criticises me? Or it could be: This should be fun. I’m looking forward to this. I might learn something new here. I might make new friends. Probably it will be a mix of the two. But notice that in each case what comes up are quite strong feelings. This is normal - for everyone. The important thing is to pay attention to them, to listen to them, to see what they tell you about yourself. The affective (feeling) domain is equally as important as the cognitive (thinking) domain in social experience.

Some of the feelings you will have when first in a group will be to do with safety. Does it feel OK to be here? Are these people I want to be with? If you have chosen who you are with this may partly be on the basis of how safe you feel with them, supported and respected by them. Remember other people will be having similar feelings to your own.

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Ground rules
It is difficult to work well with others in a group if you are feeling insecure, setting up a framework which helps give a sense of security to the group is thus essential. This involves agreement on what are called ‘ground rules’. Ground rules should be agreed by the group members themselves. Here are five essential ones.

Speaking – only one person speaks at a time, this could be as a result of putting a hand up or agreeing to take turns to speak.
Listening – it is important to really listen to what the other person is saying without interrupting them.
Not judging – it is really important to listen without making judgements about the other person, this is where they are coming from, respect that. Sharing – no one person should dominate the discussion, no person should be left out, everyone should be encouraged to contribute. Voice – it’s not about saying the right thing or having an answer, it’s about ‘finding your voice’, which may be just to say what you’re feeling. The group task

The most important thing in a task orientated group is to reach agreement on the goal and how best to achieve it. There is always a tension between individual/group needs that has to be resolved. You may thus have to put some of your own needs aside in order to achieve the set task. This does not mean ignoring them. You might want to take it in turns at the beginning just to say how you feel about being in the group before getting down to the task. Q: Is there anything you need to do before you can be really present to what we’ve got to do?

2. DISCUSSION SKILLS
Sharing feelings
It often really helps the group dynamic to periodically check-in with how you are feeling about the task. You might therefore make observations such as: “I feel really excited about working together on this”; “I feel really daunted about the task we have to do”; “I feel nervous about having anything valuable to contribute”.

Such statements don’t...
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