“There’s nothing to be nervous about”

I caught myself saying that to Angela right before we were about to descend. My intent was pure, by this point she was an experienced diver and we had done this many times before. In my mind, a few simple words of encouragement would help alleviate the anxiety she happened to be feeling before our dive that day.

But then I realized how ridiculous I sounded. Has saying “don’t be nervous” ever really helped anyone not be nervous? To that end, I didn’t even know what she was anxious about! Simply telling her not to be nervous wasn’t going to help.

(and this is the ocean, where, you know…these things live)

(that moment at :12 when the shark raced towards us briefly…yikes!)

And then I thought of our journey to this point.

Diving came easy for me, it really is something I’ve always wanted to do, but Angela had her reservations.

We’d snorkeled a lot over the years, but the idea of sinking below the surface and breathing underwater was an uncomfortable one. She didn’t enjoy putting her head underwater, and never did so, even in our backyard swimming pool! Diving was much more difficult in the initial stages for her.

Yet, here she was…not only was she doing it, she was rocking at it! She had, time and again, overcome her anxiety, given the thumbs down “descend” signal, and developed into a great diver. But it took considerable more effort on her part to get to this point, she worked harder at it than I did and has the right to feel any damn way she wants to feel!

So I stopped. I stopped telling her not to be nervous, or reminding her how many times she’s done this before. Now on the rare occasions where either of us have the pre-dive jitters, we’ve established what we refer to as “The Process”. The process includes simply stopping. Breathing. Understanding whatever is causing the concern. Taking the time and space to work through it. And then (most of the time), proceeding underwater.

That made me think of how many times in life I’ve probably done this, not been a great friend or colleague because I wasn’t empathetic to where the other person was coming from (and Empathy is one of my top 5 strengths!), and how I can benefit from a “Process” for being emotionally intelligent.

Here’s what I’m working on these days:

  1. Validate the emotion. It is there. It is real. It is THEIRS. Who am I to say they have no reason to feel sad/angry/frustrated/anxious/concerned. It isn’t my emotion! And, really, if I was feeling that way, I’d be even more frustrated that someone was dismissing my frustration!
  2. Understand the emotion. As much as possible, examine what is causing it. Not in an attempt to “fix” it, but rather, as a way to understand how to best serve the other person. Maybe all they need is someone to listen. Or, maybe, there’s something of incredible importance that we need to be aware of. In Angela’s case, we’re about to engage in this unnatural act of going eighty feet underwater and breathing from tubes and tanks while swimming with sharks and jellyfish – there’s always room for concern!

and finally,

  1. Proceed. In whatever direction the other person feels is right. Ask questions, listen, understand what is happening, and go from there. In the case of scuba diving, if either dive buddy doesn’t have a good feeling, it is ALWAYS ok to stop and try again later. And if we are already underwater, either partner ALWAYS has the right to terminate the dive.

So, that’s what I’m working on. What process works for you?

…and here’s a cool grey Angelfish!