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Why FINESSE Is a Powerful Communication Model and Mental Model

FINESSE is a powerful, proven cause-and-effective approach for communicating in situations with high levels of complexity and uncertainty.  Communication tips are not helpful without an underlying approach.
FINESSE is a powerful, proven cause-and-effective approach for communicating in situations with high levels of complexity and uncertainty. Communication tips are not helpful without an underlying approach.

FINESSE is a powerful cause-and-effect approach that describes how effective communication works in the real world. FINESSE is a linear communication model that places the burden of effective communication on the message's sender, not the receiver.

As a mental model, FINESSE helps technically trained professionals apply the seven causal factors necessary to address strategic decisions with high levels of complexity and uncertainty.

Key Takeaway

FINESSE is a cause-and-effect approach for communicating issues with high levels of complexity to decision makers. With that said, there are many models and approaches for effective communication. And there are thousands of communication tips, each of whose importance depends on the chosen approach. The salient point is that you need some formal approach and associated model to communicate high levels of complexity and uncertainty effectively.

Conceptual Models

A conceptual model is an abstract, high-level model of a system. Conceptual models can be used to represent any system. However, a conceptual model is not meant to be implemented but instead helps understand the system and how its components interact.

Conceptual models are primarily academic. They align well with theory.

Eight Conceptual Models of Communication

Academia normally describes eight conceptual models of communication. These eight models are classically divided into three categories.

Linear models

Linear models take the form of “source-message-receiver” models and consider communication as one-way. The burden of effective communication is on the sender.

  • Aristotle’s model of communication states that the five communication elements are speaker, speech, occasion, audience, and effect.

  • Lasswell's model is a basic framework for analyzing one-way communication by asking five questions: Who, said what, through which channel, to whom, and with what effects?

  • The Shannon-Weaver is the first to highlight the role of noise in communication, which can distort, disrupt, prevent, or alter a message between sender and receiver.

  • Berlo’s S-M-C-R model describes communication in four steps: Source, Message, Channel, and Receiver.

Interactive models

Interactive models present communication as a two-way process between senders and receivers. The basic components in a linear communication model are present. However, there are two additional aspects. First, the receivers can provide feedback to senders. Second, the sender and receiver have relevant experience that they bring to the interaction.

  • The Osgood-Schramm model examines reciprocal communication, showing how we encode, decode, and interpret information in real time during communication.

  • The Westley and Maclean model shows that environmental, cultural, and personal factors influence communication.

Transactional models

Transactional models designate all participants as responsible for the co-creation of meaning. Communicators are interdependent and capable of influencing each other on an ongoing basis. The message gets more complex as the communication event progresses.

  • Barnlund’s model highlights the role of private and public cues that impact our messages.

  • Dance’s Helical Model views communication as a helical spiral, where a circular process gets increasingly complex as communication occurs.

Mental Models

A mental model represents a person’s thought process for how something works. Mental models help shape actions and behavior, capture our attention, and tap into our recall in tough situations. The models are used to understand objects, people, or situations. Mental models can be used to solve problems and make decisions in the real world.

While mental models align with practical approaches, they do not necessarily reflect systems dynamics or cause-and-effect relationships. In other words, mental models are one way a thought process can be framed for memory and recall.

For example, CATER is a mental model used in facilitation and is purely a mental model that helps move the facilitation from good to great. FINESSE is a cause-and-effect relationship that also serves as a mental model for effective communication.


FINESSE is a proven, cause-and-effect communication approach grounded in systems thinking. As a mental model, FINESSE helps practitioners remember causal factors, communicate effectively, and make decisions. As a learning and literary device, FINESSE is a mnemonic that helps users remember the seven causal factors.

FINESSE is different than many mental models because it describes a cause-and-effect relationship grounded in systems thinking.

FINESSE is in the linear conceptual communication tradition and closely aligned with the Aristotle and Shannon-Weaver models. FINESSE is grounded in the linear (one-way) tradition because trusted advisors and technically trained professionals work for decision makers. As such, we are called to provide information. Communication is all about the receiver and not about the sender.

FINESSE as an Interactive Foundation

Chapter 10 in the second edition of Communicating Reliability, Risk & Resiliency to Decision Makers: How to Get the Boss's Boss to Understand specifically address issues to help the boss's boss. The chapter discusses that communication is best when it is interactive. For example, many subordinates have difficulty with empathy because they have never been in an executive leadership role. The receiver is accountable in a secondary way for facilitating FINESSE.

Facilitation is also where FINESSE plays a key foundation in an interactive communication model. Remember that interactive models start with and build upon linear models. In Facilitating with FINESSE, five elements (CATER) are added to the FINESSE mental model to move our facilitation from good to great.

Applying It

The bottom line is that we need an approach if our communication is to be effective. FINESSE is a powerful, proven cause-and-effect approach grounded in systems thinking and doubles as a practical mental model. While discussing conceptual and mental models is a bit academic, all of our approaches must be tied to some form of theory. In practice, remember FINESSE.


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


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