Things get a little dirty when humans get involved. In any system, human behavior and human understanding “gum up” the process. These are a few of the dirty secrets for effective communications.
Communication is the exchange of information from one person to another.
Communication requires a sender, a receiver, and a message. Technical professionals (sender) usually believe the decision maker (receiver) cannot understand the message because the decision maker is not as smart as they are. Most of the time, the lack of understanding comes from the noise generated by the sender. The burden of effective communication is on the send (technical professional), not the receiver (decision maker).
A facilitated session is a structured meeting in which the meeting leader (the facilitator) guides the participants through a series of predefined steps to arrive at a result that is created, understood, and accepted by all participants.
Things usually unravel when the team leader tries to assume the role of meeting leader. After all, guiding participants through a series of predefined steps is what a manager does every day- right? Wrong! Facilitation is a separate specialty within the larger context of leading, guiding, directing, and collaborating with people. Not all facilitators are good day-to-day people managers, and not all day-to-day managers are good facilitators. Unless, of course, if you stayed at a Holiday Inn.
Communicating with FINESSE
FINESSE is my mnemonic for remembering the basics of effective communication. A mnemonic is a literary construction used to make important things more memorable. For example, FINESSE facilitates the memory of effective communication: Frame, Illustrate, Noise, Empathy, Structure, Synergy, and Ethics.
Mnemonics are frequently confused with acronyms, which are abbreviations using the first letters of a series of words to create a new word. For example, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is technically an acronym but not a mnemonic.
The FINESSE Fishbone Diagram
Like a mnemonic, a visual helps us remember the basic aspects of effective communication. The fishbone diagram was an obvious choice since it is a common tool for depicting cause-and-effect relationships among technical professionals. Plus, I like fishing.
The underlying issue with effective communication for technical professionals is complexity and uncertainty. Major decisions that take months to resolve, require a significant amount of investment, and involve many people (and some calculations) have complexity and uncertainty. Directing, giving orders, and providing statuses on normal operating issues do not necessarily require a lot of finesse. I learned a lot about the difference by sailing on the ocean.
If the underlying issue is complexity and uncertainty (the fishbone’s tail), then the effect we seek is effective communication (the fishbone head). The solutions (or the root causes) are in the bones of FINESSE.
The bones are some of the things we will spend some time on in this series. And especially we will be examining different techniques for applying those bones to things like Root Cause Analysis, Fault Tree Analysis, FMEA, Risk Assessments, Business Case Evaluations, Strategic Plans, and Work Process Improvements. Here is a brief description of each bone:
Frame is all about “a problem well-framed is a problem half solved.” Decision makers like to change the frame when they don’t get what they want, so framing also involves tying down the frame.
Illustrate is about the many visuals that are available to make us more, or less, effective. There are a handful of essential graphics and a handful of troublesome (but common) ones.
Noise is concerned about noise reduction. The burden of effective communication is on the sender, not the receiver.
Empathy is being able to put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker. The FINESSE chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and the empathy link is a big one.
Structure usually consists of an opening, the main body, and a close. The trick is that decision makers may only see the first act (the opening).
Synergy recognizes that decisions with complexity and uncertainty move through an inner circle of advisors and require multiple presentations. Group effects can hurt you or help you.
Ethics are the way we make decisions. In some ways, I wish the mnemonic started with an “E.” In other ways, I am glad it ends with probably the most important part. The big finish should always be memorable.
How To Get Your Boss’s Boss to Understand
This is the title of most of my half-day and full-day workshops. It is also the short title of my 2017 book. The long title is “Communicating Reliability, Risk, and Resiliency to Decision Makers: How to Get Your Boss’s Boss to Understand.”
The book’s second edition was slated for the third anniversary in June of 2020. I founded the new company in late 2019. Something called COVID-19 struck a few months later. Leading a startup during a pandemic is the short version of why the second edition will be released on the fifth anniversary in June of this year.
I hope you are not disappointed that the dirty secrets are not more illicit or salacious. The secrets are dirty because they will make your communications dirty. Dirty, if you remember from your urban dictionary, means “something that is praiseworthy or done extremely well; in the same vein as nasty or, in some cases, filthy.” I hope you want your communications to be dirty, if not outright filthy.
J.D. Solomon, Inc. provides facilitation and communication services related to Strategic Plans, Planning Retreats, FMEA, Root Cause Analysis, Business Case Evaluations, and Capital Programs. Visit our website for more information.
Leave a Reply