We鈥檝e got an attitude problem!

- english decision-making jenny lord just culture psychological safety psychologicalsafety Aug 03, 2022

I’ve written a number of blogs on here but one of them got considerably more discussion (especially in the Facebook group) than the others. It was this one: My biggest mistake. It was fascinating to read the comments from people both publicly in the Facebook group and ones that were privately sent to me. I suspect because of the context in which it was shared, the majority of the comments were encouraging, thanking me for sharing and giving others things to think about. However, as with most things in public, there were also those who decreed I should have my license to dive or teach taken away and that I was a danger to myself and all my students.

So why such an extreme reaction? My background is in outdoor education, I have been teaching various so-called “extreme sports” for twenty years. In rock climbing, white water kayaking or caving communities the attitude towards mistakes and learning is vastly different to what I’ve seen in diving. A quick glance through the larger forums in these other sports reveals a culture of encouragement, openness and at most, the odd gripe about a certain technique someone may use (usually in relation to harming the environment). This is all in line with what I’ve encountered personally. Bear in mind that all of these sports are almost entirely unregulated. Some sites have certain restrictions but for the majority, you can go and buy the gear and without any training at all jump straight onto the rock face/river/cave. You don’t need to have any particular certification to go to a certain site. If you feel ready, then go for it! It is normal that a friend will help give you pointers (normally not someone qualified as an instructor) and you learn by doing the sport. Most people will take a degree of formal training but it’s not considered necessary.

And then we look at diving. One of the most highly regulated sports in the world. Depending on where you are drives exactly how much regulation there is and that tends to range from “get your first level certificate and you can buy your gear, get fills and do what you want”, to “you can only go with a qualified guide and only do the dives you are certified for”. And yet the incidents, accidents, injuries and deaths that happen to people get torn apart in discussion …..if they’re discussed at all.

A glance at any diving group will show the comments that appear after an incident. Almost always they fall into two categories; “They were idiots” or “They should have done x,y and z”. Sadly, this attitude is what stops people from learning. We learn by making mistakes. When I first started kayaking I used to capsize a lot. But that was how I learnt to balance, to control the boat. Without making those mistakes I wouldn’t have learned. I was always much better at kayaking than climbing because I was always scared to fall. And that slowed me down far more than people who didn’t have that fear. But that’s exactly what we’re doing in diving. We don’t allow people to make any mistakes. And we certainly don’t allow them to talk about it in a way that will help them and others to learn from it. This is what we mean by a “Just Culture”. It’s a culture where people are held accountable for their actions but not by always searching for blame, rather by allowing them to tell their 'account', their story. And by blaming people’s mistakes on themselves, rather than accepting that there are lots of other factors involved that we may not know about means we as a community aren’t progressing anyway near as fast as we could be.

So I have a request for you. Please start sharing your mistakes. They don’t have to be huge. Little things matter- “I forgot my weight belt on today's dive”, “I lost control of my buoyancy a bit and rose up a few metres” etc etc. The higher your level, the more important this is. Instructors, tech divers, cave divers, and instructor trainers, please start doing this! Show your student that making mistakes is human! But please, tell the story behind the mistake. WHY did it happen? How did it make sense for you to do that? And what will you do differently next time to try and prevent it? If we all start doing this, then maybe we as a community can start to change, learn and grow.

Feel free to post those events in the HF in Diving Facebook Group - it is a safe space to do so and when there are those who 'don't get it', they are quickly put down by others.

Jenny is a full-time technical diving instructor. Prior to diving, she worked in outdoor education for 10 years teaching rock climbing, white water kayaking and canoeing, sailing, skiing, caving and cycling, amongst other sports.

Her interest in team development started with outdoor education, using it as a tool to help people learn more about communication, planning and teamwork.

Since 2009 she has lived in Dahab, Egypt teaching SCUBA diving. She is now a technical instructor trainer for TDI, advanced trimix instructor, advanced mixed gas CCR diver and helitrox CCR instructor.

Jenny has supported a number of deep dives as part of H2O divers dive team and works as a safety diver in the stunt industry.