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Big Business Decisions: How to Overcome Uncertainty with FINESSE

Fishbone (cause and effect) diagram showing the seven bones of FINESSE.
The seven bones of the FINESSE fishbone diagram indicate the factors necessary to create effective communication in the presence of complexity and uncertainty.

Communicating with FINESSE

FINESSE is a mental model 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.

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.


This 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.

Simple Ways to Improve Your Communication

  1. Embrace the Communicating with FINESSE fishbone. Join the Communicating with FINESSE community for free.

  2. Continue your personal journey, including purchasing the 2nd edition of Communicating Reliability, Risk & Resiliency to Decision Makers. That is a $20 purchase.

  3. Have training events for technical staff and for managers. Communicating with FINESSE provides full-day, half-day, and online options at reasonable prices. This will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars (individual and corporate options are available)

  4. Create Learning Teams in your work environment because you and your peers have good examples of what works and does not work for you. Getting corporate approval can be tricky, time-consuming and may require a budget.

  5. Contact the CWF community or JD Solomon for advice on your communications journey and special problems you encounter.

Resolve to move your communications from good to great.


Founded by JD Solomon, Communicating with FINESSE is a not-for-profit community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly communicators as trusted advisors to senior management. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.


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