FINESSE is a fishbone diagram, a mnemonic, and a mental model. FINESSE stands for Frame, Illustrate, Noise Reduction, Empathy, Structure, Synergy, and Ethics. Systems thinking as applied to effective communication is the cornerstone of FINESSE. We’ll briefly explore these aspects in this article.
FINESSE as a Mnemonic
Acronyms are a subset of mnemonics that use the first letter of each word to create another memorable word. FINESSE is both an acronym and a mnemonic.
FINESSE as a Mental Model
Like a mnemonic, a mental model helps us remember the basic aspects of effective communication. Mental models are the frameworks people use to organize and interpret information. Whether conscious or subconscious, they play a significant role in how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. However, a mental model is just one person’s interpretation of how the world works.
FINESSE as a Cause-and-Effect Model
Cause and effect models depict the connections and influences among various factors. They show the factors that work together and how changes in one factor lead to changes in another. The illustration of specific relationships within a system places a higher standard on a cause-and-effect model versus a mental model.
The FINESSE Fishbone Diagram
A fishbone diagram is an obvious choice since it is a common tool for depicting cause-and-effect relationships among technical professionals. Using cause-and-effect models, systems thinkers map out relationships between elements, anticipate the consequences of actions or changes, and identify key leverage points within a system.
The underlying issue with effective communication for technical professionals is complexity and uncertainty. Major decisions that take months to resolve require significant investment, involve many people, and more than a few calculations.
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.
This is a brief description of each bone.
The F is for Frame
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.
The I is for Illustrate
Illustrate is about the many visuals available to make us more or less effective. There are a handful of essential graphics and a handful of troublesome (but common) ones.
The N is for Noise (Reduction)
Noise is concerned about noise reduction. The burden of effective communication is on the sender, not the receiver.
The first E is for Empathy
Empathy is being able to put yourself in the decision maker’s shoes. The FINESSE chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and the empathy link is a big one.
The first S is for Structure
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).
The Second S is for Synergy
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.
The Second E is for Ethics
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.
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JD Solomon is the author of Communicating Reliability, Risk & Resiliency to Decision Makers: How to Get Your Boss’s Boss to Understand and Facilitating with FINESSE: A Guide to Successful Business Solutions. JD Solomon Inc. provides solutions for facilitation, asset management, and program development at the nexus of facilities, infrastructure, and the environment.