Spoiler Alert: I don’t look great in this story.

No, really. It’s not me at my best – but it’s honest! So, that’s something, right? And more importantly, I learned something vital, something worth sharing.

Almost two months ago, I was sitting on the couch at home when a message came through on my phone. It was from one of the Corporate Partner teens I work with, and he’d sent it out to the group message we have for the full Corporate Partner team.

“super looking forward to this corporate meeting on Thursday lol”

Lol? LOL?! Excuuuuuuse me? Did you forget that I, your adult advisor, am also in this group message? That’s the only possible explanation for throwing that much blatant sass in my face. Oh my god. None of the other teens are replying, because they know it’s so, so awkward because I’m on this message. Why would you be so sarcastic and rude?

My brain was running wild, with thoughts chasing each other’s tails around and around. I was offended. I was shocked. I was really, really scared.

Is he having a bad experience on the Corporate team? Are they all having a bad experience? Is that why they aren’t chiming in on this message, because they agree? Do they all hate this? Am I screwing up? What do I do? Should I just ignore it and pretend I didn’t see the message?

The next day at work, I still hadn’t decided how to respond. I ended up telling the other staff members about it, hoping they would have some insight. Jen, our wonderful leader, said, “why don’t you just check in with him? You know how hard it is to read tone over text. Seek first to understand.”

She was right. I stopped and thought about it – I wasn’t really offended. I was worried. I sent a text asking if he was doing okay, saying that I was confused by his text, reminding him that I care about him and want his experience to be great, checking to see if I could be supporting him in any way.

“oh I was just expressing my excitement for the Thursday meetings cuz they are ‘wins’ I look forward to in the week. But I’m good! I guess support would be just being authentic cuz ur awesome! Thanks for checking in!”

Cue the tears.

I felt like such a jerk. Here’s a teen just trying to share some excitement and gratitude with his team, and I let my own fears turn into a major assumption where he looks like the bad guy. I wanted to bang my head on my desk, but instead, I sent a note back thanking him and telling him how glad I was that he was enjoying the meetings.

What if I had ignored that text? I would have continued assuming the worst – and worrying through the rest of the year that everyone would hate being a part of Corporate. I would have distanced myself from this teen, who only wanted to celebrate our team, because I would be certain that he didn’t want to be there. It would have completely changed the course of the year for me and for the entire team.

Fear and anger never lead to connection. They never create stronger relationships.

In PFO, we believe that with compassion and courage, we increase our connection to others. Jen’s advice to “seek first to understand” made me dig down and realize that what I was really feeling was fear. I was so afraid that I was going to let the teens down, because I care about them and want them to feel successful. Knowing that, I was able to reach out in a way that communicated compassion and caring.

As a result, we are closer, more connected than before. And WOW, have I learned to pause and seek first to understand, especially if texting is involved! I want deeper connection and stronger relationships everywhere in my life – and I believe with all of my heart that the courage to reach out in compassion is the way to get there.