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We’re two months into a new presidency and our country has never been more outwardly divided. And this division is bringing increasing awareness of the impact that our words have on the people around us.

But for as much turmoil as we seem to be facing, we’re facing an equal amount of opportunity, particularly when it comes to the exchange of ideas and information—i.e., communication.

Just over sixty days since the transfer of our country’s leadership, individuals, small businesses, corporations and educational institutions of all sizes are still desperately trying to determine what to say, how to say it, who to say it to and whether to say anything at all on an increasing number of lightning rod subjects. And there are no easy answers on anything, it seems.

Walking on eggshells for the next four (or eight) years isn’t a solution. Neither is sprinting through a minefield and hoping that you don’t set off an explosion. And for some organizations, silence just isn’t an option.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But there are certain ways that we can guard against going down a path that leads to personal heartache or professional headache.

Now is as good a time as ever to remember that all communications—even the briefest of email messages—are an extension of yourself and your institution. As basic as it may sound, it would do us all a world of good to remember the three key elements of effective communication: message, audience and medium.

So, the next time you’re trying to figure out what to say, what to send or what to do, ask yourself:

·   What’s my message? Individuals have beliefs. Schools have mission statements. Either way, these are core messages that set the tone for every interaction, personal or business. Is what you’re about to say or do in line with your personal principles? Values? Educational objectives? School culture? Is it consistent with your institution’s stance on certain issues? Is it respectful of the person across the table who may have views different from your own? If the answer to any of these questions is no, take a step back and reconsider before moving forward.

·   Who is my audience? Keep in mind that there are multiple audiences for every communication. And each audience will see and hear the same message differently. Do your best to put yourself in the shoes of each of your key stakeholders and consider all viewpoints because once you say it, you’ve said it. And whatever you said can be transcribed, repeated or forwarded. Not to mention memorialized on the Internet forever. It is always harder to regain support or trust of a key audience (especially students) after you’ve lost it—and this applies just as much to what you don’t say as what you do say. Does the world need to hear it? Or just your internal team? That leads us to the next question.

·   What is the best way to reach my audience? We have more ways to communicate with one another than ever before. Whether pen to paper, fingertips to keyboard (or smartphone), ear to receiver, or social network to the world, there’s no reason why you can’t send the messages that mean the most to the people who matter the most. Which medium is most appropriate to the subject matter? What forum will be most effective in reaching your intended audience? Is your choice of communications channel consistent with how you have distributed information in the past? Mindful transmission leads to greater reception, understanding and respect—both for the message and for the person or entity doing the communicating.

While simple, this three-way test will help us all think through how best to address the issues of the day, whatever they may be.

We owe it to ourselves—and to each other—to communicate in a dignified and respectful manner.

Our future depends on it.

Philip T. Hauserman is Vice President at The Castle Group.