Group discussion involves the free flow of communication between a facilitator and two or more participants (Figure 10.4). Often a discussion of this type is used after a slide show or following a more formal presentation. This type of teaching method is characterised by participants having an equal chance to talk freely and exchange ideas with each other. In most group discussions the subject of the discussion can be taken up and shared equally by all the members of the group. In the best group discussions, collective thinking processes can be used to solve problems. These discussions often develop a common goal and are useful in collective planning and implementation of health plans. Group discussions do not always go smoothly and sometimes a few people dominate the discussion and do not allow others to join in. Your job as the facilitator is to establish ground rules and use strategies to prevent this from happening.
Handling group members requires patience, politeness, the avoidance of arguments and an ability to deal with different people without excessive authority or belittling them publicly. Think for a moment about how you might prevent a few people from dominating a group discussion.
The key skill in group work that may prevent such domination is by encouraging full participation of everyone in the group. You may be able to ensure participation in several ways, for example by using questioning and by using other methods that facilitate active participation and interaction. Quiet or unresponsive participants need to be brought into the discussion, perhaps by asking them easy questions so that they gain in confidence. Conversely, any community member dominating the discussion excessively should be restrained, possibly by recognising his or her contribution, but requesting information from someone who has yet to be heard. Sometimes it may be necessary to be more assertive, by reminding a dominant member of the objectives of the meeting and the limited time available.
Box 10.1 gives more ideas about managing disruptive group discussions.
Box 10.1 Group disruption
Groups can be disrupted by several types of behaviour:
- People who want a fight: Do not get involved. Explore their ideas, but let the group decide their value.
- Would like to help: Encourage them frequently to give ideas, and use them to build on in the discussion.
- Focuses on small details: Acknowledge his or her point but remind them of the objective and the time limit for the discussion.
- Just keeps talking: Interrupt tactfully. Ask a question to bring him or her back to the point being discussed and thank them for their contribution.
- Seems afraid to speak: Ask easy questions. Give them credit to raise their confidence.
- Insists on their own agenda: Recognise the person's self-interest. Ask him or her to focus on the topic agreed by the group.
- Is just not interested: Ask about their work and how the group discussion could help.