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Gear Guy

Speak Up

When should you speak up about bad practice?

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Today at the gym I overheard a woman tell her belayer that she wasn’t comfortable with his technique. He argued and said something about his figure-8 device. Of course, I peeked to see what he was doing. His belay style was antiquated at best. He was matching his hands above his head and sliding down to pull up again. I avoid conflict. Unless someone is making a dangerous mistake, I don’t get involved. Maybe that woman’s belayer was using an accepted practice, but I’d never seen it. Should I have said something?

—Tim Page

I’m not a licensed counsellor, but I know that conflict resolution requires that both parties recognize the problem, understand or appreciate the opposing view, and are willing to change. Indeed, you faced a hopeless situation. Figure-8 belayer had already told his partner to STFU. Why would he listen to you?

One trick I learned from my pard Jefe is the “shit sandwich.” Using this technique you first flatter your subject with a compliment such as, “That’s an awesome figure 8. I haven’t seen one of those since the 1970s. You must be an amazing collector.” Once you have softened up your victim, you lay down the bad news: “You know your belay technique is dangerous and you could drop your partner.” Quickly followed by more flattery: “Hey, I’ll loan you my Grigri if you need a device that actually works.”

May or may not be successful.

I am surprised that the gym would sign off on using a figure 8, and shocked that his strange technique passed muster at the required belay test. Did this guy think he was auditioning for Vertical Limit?

In a work environment, you could anonymously bring the problem to the attention of Human Resources. No, those aren’t bots that mine human bodies for minerals and usable parts, but are people who are trained—and, more importantly, paid—to deal with uncomfortable situations, from body odor to using a figure 8 for belaying. Yes—this would be the gym manager.

What you could have done was politely asked the manager to check out that dude’s belaying. Unless figure-8 dude is the manager’s dad, he would have rectified the situation. If the manager approves of the technique and tells you to MYOB, take your membership elsewhere. But, yes, always speak up, or act. Next!

This Gear Guy question appeared in Rock and Ice issue 249 (April 2018).

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