FINESSE: Technical Professionals Need a Communication Approach to Be Effective
Technical professionals usually become focused on hard skills and have little time to focus on soft skills like communication. The result is stumbling through a career of patchwork tips that produce ineffective communication. Eventually, a small percentage find something that adequately works.
The solution is that we need a specific approach for effective communication of issues involving high levels of complexity. Without an approach, our focus is too high in the clouds or too low as we move through the forest from tree to tree. FINESSE provides a viable approach, and this is why you need it.
Philosophies, Theories, and Approaches
I prescribe to the saying that philosophies are for philosophers, theories are for academics, and approaches are for practitioners.
When someone asks me about my communication philosophy, I understand that I am probably talking to a bureaucrat or another non-serious person. I appropriately recall some philosophers like Aristotle and get ready for a twenty-minute conversation that will go nowhere.
It is slightly different when asked about my communication theory. The person on the other end has likely studied communication in an academic setting, and the conversation will be a little more interesting. I get ready to hear the person tell me their wisdom because, ironically, people that want to talk theory usually tell you theirs but care little about yours.
When someone asks me what my communication approach is, I smile because to know I am talking to a practitioner. We will start talking about context, followed by why we chose one approach over another in a particular context. We are going to talk about successes and failures. We will then discuss some tips and pitfalls. I will leave with some helpful lessons learned and a few good stories to tell.
Approaches Are All Around Us
These are a few types of approaches that we see all around us.
Capital Purchases and Programs
First Costs, Payback, or Total Cost of Ownership
Protection-based, Compliance-based, or Risk-based
Reactive (Corrective) or Proactive (Preventative/Predictive)
Autocratic, Participatory, Democratic, Consensus
Hitting a Baseball
Bottom Hand leads or Top Hand leads
We Are Known by Our Approaches
Leaders are known by their approaches. Leaders judge the context and select their approach. Sometimes the approach works and sometimes it fails. Selecting the approach is the biggest fork in the road, and the path the leader takes often reveals their fate.
There are indeed "bad" leaders. However, deeper analysis usually shows that the leader simply picked the wrong approach. For this reason, I usually classify “bad” leaders as consistently making bad approach choices as they shift roles and organizations. “Good” leaders have a knack for making good approach choices at the start of a new assignment, and great ones can change approaches mid-stream.
Examples are all around us, from sports coaches, army generals, business executives, and ministers in a church. We are known by our approaches.
Tips Are Not Helpful Without An Approach
The internet has thousands of communication tips and tips for anything you wish to do. The trick is that the tips have little relevance outside the chosen approach. One sure way to fail is to erratically apply a bunch of tips or the "tip of the day."
You will usually know if someone is an expert by whether they recite tips or whether they talk first about context and their underlying approaches.
One revealing exercise is to write down your communication approach. Next, make a list of ten to twenty tips you have heard. Then map the tips and their relative applicability (high, medium, low) to your approach. In most settings, only about half of the tips people carry in their brains apply to the approach.
We Need An Approach (and a method)
We need fewer philosophies and theories and more approaches in the real world. We also need fewer tips, or at least tips that make sense in the context of our approach.
However, approaches have strengths and weaknesses too. An approach is a particular manner of taking steps towards a particular purpose. As a strength, it provides tangible direction, helps sort useful and less useful actions, and provides some flexibility. The weakness of this approach is that it is still somewhat high-level and provides few detailed steps.
We also need a method that provides order to our approach.
Most approaches have multiple methods, usually based on preference and expertise. Evidence-based root cause analysis is an example of an approach with several methods related to the order, tools, and structure of accomplishing the overlying approach. FINESSE as an approach also has multiple methods that could be used.
Where Do Models Fit?
A model is a construct that helps us understand something in the real world. That makes models interesting because they can fit into three places in the continuum,
Conceptual models align best with theories, mental models map to approaches, and analytical models apply as subsets of a method. Remember that analysis means to break into parts, which is what we do with all systems (including communication systems) to understand how the smaller pieces work.
The one thing to take away is that FINESSE is both an approach and a mental model.
We need a specific approach for effective communication of issues involving high levels of complexity. Without an approach, our focus is too high in the clouds or too low as we move through the forest from tree to tree. FINESSE provides a viable, proven approach. Are you Communicating with FINESSE?