Why is it so hard to admit to our mistakes?

- english human error incident reporting jenny lord learning psychological safety Mar 06, 2024

I made an error on a dive the other day. That by itself isn’t unusual, we all frequently make mistakes, the majority of them will be very minor and we’ll correct them fairly quickly. This one, however, was different. This error was a violation- I knew I was doing something wrong but went ahead and did it anyway. After several years of teaching human factors and telling everyone to share their mistakes so others can learn, it should be easy for me to share this one, right? That got me thinking- what stops us talking about our mistakes?

Psychological safety/Being judged

We’ve written many times about psychological safety on here (and here, and here, and here)

That’s because it’s such a key part of human factors. If there is no trust, no safety in a team, then it can be almost impossible to share stories. And if we don’t share stories, we can’t learn from each other. Sadly, the dive industry as a whole doesn’t have the best record when it comes to psychological safety. Putting stories out in public can cause backlash (as I found out when I shared this story on social media. Thankfully the majority of people understood my reason for sharing and only one individual didn’t appear to understand, so it was a mostly psychologically safe environment!). Some people still follow the old fashioned idea that any mistake should be corrected by training and is the fault of the individual, rather than looking at the context. These are the people who aim to blame and punish, rather than learn. Sadly, they don’t see that not only are they blocking their own learning but also the ability of others to learn from shared stories.


Kicked out of the agency? Lose a job? Arrested?! The consequences of admitting to our mistakes can be high. The reality is that most mistakes are slips or lapses, unintended errors that happen to everyone. They’re the things we should be talking about the most, as learning about them is how we can learn to avoid more of them. For more serious errors, unless they are because of reckless behaviours, it can be difficult to talk about them. And yet, often if we dig into the reason why these things have happened, we can learn from the conditions, the culture and the processes.

Role model behaviour

Like it or not, instructors and experienced divers are looked up to by many people. As a result of this, it’s best for the community if they exhibit role model behaviour. Unfortunately, some of those people take that to mean that they aren’t allowed to show “weakness” aka mistakes. In fact, the opposite is true- the ability to discuss your mistakes IS role model behaviour, for the reasons I’ve given above. People who are looked up to should be demonstrating this. The first E of the DEBrIEF model stands for Example- the person running the debrief shares a mistake that they made as a way of building psychological safety, to show others that it’s ok to make mistakes and talk about them in order to learn.


One of the biggest barriers to sharing has to be ego. Some people simply won’t admit that they have made a mistake. This may be through fear of how others might see them or because they believe they don’t make mistakes (in this case it’s usually “somebody else’s fault”). In every sport/community/area there will always be people who let their ego get the better of them, especially those who’ve reached the top in terms of qualifications or achievements but those people aren’t the best to be learning from.


The final thing that stops people sharing mistakes is embarrassment. This can happen if people are relatively new and believe no one else would make the same mistake (of course, the likelihood is that lots of people will have made it- hands up everyone who’s forgotten to put on their weights/fins/mask/computer before jumping in?!). It also happens to experienced divers who may feel that the mistake they made was so silly that someone of their level shouldn’t have made it (again: weights/fins/mask/computer……!).

If we’re able to reframe our mistakes into learning experiences we can all be better.

“I forgot to put my computer before I jumped in; next time I’ll include that in the buddy check”. Congratulations; you’ve learnt and your buddy probably has too. But we need to get over these barriers that are stopping us. Building psychological safety as a wide community is difficult, but it’s much easier to do in a dive club, centre or buddy pair. A Just Culture will help to allow people to share without fear of unearned reprisals. We need to accept that admitting mistakes IS role model behaviour. Putting people on a pedestal (or allowing them to build their own) isn’t helpful, we need to look to modest people to learn from. And changing our culture to allow discussion of mistakes to be embraced, not ridiculed will help everybody. I know of some clubs who’ve recently changed from giving out “Golden Weight Belt” awards for the biggest mistake of the year to “Biggest Growth” awards, to celebrate learning.


For even more about Psychological Safety:





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

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