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Achieving Balance in Group Discussion

The Rule of Three and One




In a nutshell: be wary of speaking three times before everyone has had a chance and make sure you make at least one good contribution.

In any group there will be those who speak more and those who speak less; this might be because of differences in personality, language fluency, or culture. For instance, some people like to carefully think before they speak and some believe that interaction should be rapid and assertive. I want everyone to participate and I believe it's worthwhile to achieve balance in classroom discussion. Learning to speak well in a group setting is like learning how to write well: we may not always enjoy the process, but it's in our best interest to do it well — especially for Comm majors!

As a student, I tended toward the extremes: speaking a lot or hardly at all. But I discovered two strategies that helped me.

  1. In classes where I was keen on the topic I tried to be mindful of how much I spoke when I realized others had interesting things to say but were not as quick to speak. We are often uncomfortable with a little silence, including teachers, and speak to fill the void. However, teaching and facilitation guides recommend that we be open to such spaces: take a couple of breaths, or even say “take two minutes to think about this.” So I began a practice of pacing myself, limiting myself to three really good responses in class, and then make sure others have had time before jumping in -- if at all -- to contribute.
  2. In classes where I was less interested and motivated I found that if I could come up with one good comment or question unique to me, I could still make a contribution to class — and lessen my chance of being cold called. I also made an effort to make a connection between class material and current events.

I refer to these two techniques as the rule of three and one for balanced discussion.

Additionally, you can be a skillful communicator by encouraging balanced discussion. For instance, notice if a person or group is hasn't said much. Without putting anyone on the spot, ask them a question or respond to something they said. (Use people's names!) Or, say you'd like to hear from someone who hasn't spoken yet, or ask the group to pause so as to collect their thoughts.



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