Participating In Group Discussions For Immigrants

Last Updated on September 27, 2018 by Estrella

How immigrants can develop group discussion skills

One of the most requested skills when I design training programs for companies is to help their immigrant employees participate in group discussions.   Smart companies value good ideas of their employees.   They also realize that there may be some cultural ideas that hold back some of their immigrant employees from talking in discussion groups.   Of course there are also cultures that feel very comfortable expressing ideas in group settings.   This article is devoted to those with cultural ideas that may keep them from speaking up in groups.

Cultural beliefs and group discussions

Some cultures have beliefs that say “an educated person does not need to show off their knowledge.”  Imagine how this apply to group discussions.  Although the intent of these meetings is to find solutions, some people do speak just to be noticed.   For whatever reason.   If someone has the cultural belief of not showing off their knowledge, of course they would not want to participate.

Some cultures value order in meetings.   Instead of jumping in whenever you want, they may prefer taking turns by going around the room.  This way, everyone is heard.

And there are some who feel they must have a really good idea before they speak.   In a brainstorming group, that belief would not serve the purpose.

There are also some who do not feel confident with their English, so making a mistake in front of a group could be embarrassing.

How can companies encourage participation from immigrant employees?

In a moment, I will offer some tips to immigrants who want to develop the skill of participating in group discussions.   Right now, I would like to share some ideas with discussion facilitators who face this issue.

If you are leading a discussion with some immigrant employees who often do not participate, try some of the following.

  • Talk to the “quiet” ones BEFORE the meeting and encourage them to share their ideas.
  • Thank them individually after the meeting for sharing their thoughts to show your appreciation.   Help them feel you truly value their input.
  • If the quiet ones do not speak in the meeting, ask them specifically, “What are your thoughts on this?”   This way, if they have an idea and are reluctant to join in, you have offered them an opportunity to share.  This also shows the very verbal ones that quiet ones also have valuable input.  Just because they don’t speak up does not mean they have none.
  • If the nature of the meeting lends themselves to it, try going around the room so each person has a chance to talk.   The quiet ones would probably feel more comfortable with this approach because they may feel it’s impolite to jump in.

Actually, one brilliant engineer shared with me that he has lots of ideas to share in a brainstorming session.   However, everyone is interrupting each other, and he does not know when to jump in.   So he just kept quiet.    Imagine what the company lost.

Tips for participating in group discussions

If you are one of the “quiet” ones in group meetings who really want to contribute your ideas, here are some ways to develop this skill.

  • Watch the body language of those who share ideas.    How do they get the attention of the group verbally and non-verbally?
  • How do they successfully get the attention of the group facilitator?   Non-verbally and verbally?
  • Watch how the group responds to this person.   Is the group interested in her ideas?   If so, what is their body language?    If not, what is their body language?
  • After you analyze the words and the body language, pick some that you feel comfortable using.   Experiment with them in groups and see which ones work most effectively for you.
  • Try leaning forward when you have something to say, even use some arm gesture to indicate your intent.
  • Once you have joined in, there is more likelihood that others will EXPECT you to share in the future.   This will help you.
  • Talk to the group facilitator before or after the meeting.   Share your idea with the facilitator before the meeting and let her know that you feel uncomfortable jumping in.    Let her pave the way for you.    After the meeting, ask the facilitator for feedback on your participation skill.   The facilitator will look out for you more in the future, and will help pave the way for you.
  • Watch TV programs with panel discussions.   Notice how the professional journalists participate in group discussions.   Pick the behavior you feel comfortable with and practice that.

I hope these tips help you and your company to benefit more from your good ideas.    If you would like me to address other topics, please email me at

If you find this article helpful, perhaps you might also enjoy reading this one on Interview Tips for Immigrants.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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