top of page

Your Greatest Fear Will Help You "Communicate with FINESSE"

An alternative approach to problem framing focuses on everyone's greatest fear.
An alternative approach to problem framing focuses on everyone's greatest fear.

Focusing on your greatest fear is an alternative way to frame a problem. Framing the problem is also the first step in effective communication using the FINESSE approach for problems with high levels of complexity and uncertainty,

Typical Approaches

Problem framing usually consists of identifying some form of failure (or potential failure), identifying the measures associated with that failure, identifying issues that contribute to coming up short, and placing some boundaries around the issues to make resolution more manageable. The approach is normally positive in that we are in a less-than-desired position and trying to improve things.

An Alternative Approach

Another less frequently used approach is focusing on everyone's greatest fears. In a real-world example above, the Technology Director’s greatest fear was that his department would be blamed for not optimizing their expensive software, the CFO did not wish to be perceived that he was not in control of the financials, and the Engineering Director did not wish for his people to be blamed. Getting effective solutions to solve the capital project portfolio problem was not going to be possible if all three concerns—software, financial control, and people­­­­—were not part of the problem frame.

Applying This Tip

I like to use the greatest fear approach to verify and improve the problem frame. Avoid mistaking someone’s resistance to finding solutions as not understanding the problem or simply wanting to get their way. If you are really listening, the resistance can be a signal to improve the frame.

This tip applies to the F, Frame, in the FINESSE mental model.


Founded by JD Solomon, Communicating with FINESSE is a not-for-profit community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly effective communicators and facilitators. The community's 750 Club shares special tips and pointers associated with each bone in the FINESSE fishbone (cause and effect) diagram. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.


bottom of page