Focus groups are types of control groups that can come together for the discussion of specific topics in an environment that is considered safe and secure. Opinions, attitudes, and needs are often discussed freely, with the one proviso being that participants be honest about their opinions while also being willing to listen to the ideas of others with an open mind. Conducting a focus group in a business setting normally has to do with helping a company get a better idea of what consumers think about the products offered and even opinions on the company itself. In order to help the effort be successful, the focus group moderator must facilitate free and open discussion, mediate when discussions get heated, and in general keep the discussion on topic at all times.
Establishing the ground rules is one of the first steps in conducting a focus group. This involves making sure each participant understands that the purpose is to share thoughts, opinions, and ideas, not to critique what someone else thinks. At times, providing group members of some examples of verbiage that could be seen as attacking other points of view may be helpful, as well as some examples of how to present opinions in a manner that is less likely to disparage what others think.
Making sure each member of the focus group has the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas is also important. Balancing the participation so no one is left out is crucial to conducting a focus group, since the idea is to understand as many different points of view as possible. This can be something of a challenge, since some group members are likely to be more forthcoming with their thoughts while others hesitate to contribute. A competent group facilitator will employ different communication tools and approaches based on the unique composition of the group and find ways for each one to share more or less equally in the discussions.
During the course of conducting a focus group, the moderator or facilitator may sometimes have to mediate between two opposing points of view, especially if things begin to get heated. In order to accomplish this, the moderator must remain calm and collected. Even if one or more of the participants uses verbiage that constitutes a personal attack on the conductor of the group, there is a need to remain disconnected from the actual words and focus on the frustration behind those words. Using an even tone with verbiage that is intended to calm rather than incite will often make it possible to ease tensions and get the discussion back on track.
Keep in mind that conducting a focus group means listening to and making note of a wide range of opinions and ideas, some positive and some negative. Maintaining respect for the right of group members to hold different opinions, even opinions that the facilitator personally does not agree with, is extremely important to the process. Negative feedback that seems spurious on the surface may in fact have grains of truth that the company can use to bring about change that is ultimately to the benefit of both the business and the consumers who buy its products.