Have you ever got to the top of a route and sat back only to find that your climbing partner started lowering you two minutes ago? I have and it’s scary. The issue here is usually communication – your climbing partner probably doesn’t want to drop you to your death.
Whilst writing recent articles on the different types of outdoors climbing I realised that one thing was missing from my discussion … Communication. As a climbing instructor teaching people how to do the basics – tying-in, belaying, lowering-off – I have spent a lot of time in the past asking people to think about how they communicate when climbing and belaying. In most situations communication is not critically important, but there are occasions when communication can mean the difference between being safe or risking serious injury. At other times it can scare the life out of your climbing partner and put them off climbing forever.
Here are Ten Tips on How to Communicate Well:
1) Agree your terminology beforehand:
There is nothing worse than seeing your climbing partner disappear around the corner and have no idea what they’re talking about when they shout ‘safe’, ‘take-in’ or ‘off-belay’. These terms are actually one-word instructions – they mean you have to take action. They are standard terms across the climbing fraternity and that is for a reason – whomever you climb with should understand the terms and you should too. If you don’t know them – find someone who does and practice.
2) Use your partner’s name:
If you are climbing with loads of people voices get lost. If you hear your name, you pay attention and vice versa with your climbing partner.
Look at your partner, especially up at the top of the crag – that way they’re more likely to hear you.
At times it is important to be quiet and listen for your partner. Concentration is important whilst climbing all the time, but certain situations will require quiet and concentration more than others, to demonstrate you can be trusted and to make sure you get the right message. Learn to recognise these times and respect your partner’s needs.
Whilst not acceptable in polite society, in climbing there are times when you will need to get your big voice out. At the top of a crag you would be surprised at how windy it can get, even when it is very still at the bottom. What this means is that your climbing partner may not be able to hear a word you’re saying – you’ll need to holler.
6) Tell your climbing partner if there’s something you’d like them to do:
If you want your partner to speak louder, tell them. We are not mind readers and we all communicate differently.
7) Ask your partner:
If you’re not sure about what your partner is doing, ask them if they can explain. This doesn’t have to be a criticism of them, but can be about your learning. People love to impart their knowledge. If you disagree, you could make other suggestions and see what they think about your suggestions.
8) Get to know your partner:
Getting to know your climbing partner outside of climbing can help to understand how they communicate and build rapport, so that when you climb you have more of an idea of how they may behave and communicate (know when to shut up and when to offer encouragement, for example).
9) Don’t make assumptions:
Just because someone rocks up and tells you they’ve flashed Central Trinity without warming up, doesn’t mean they have, it doesn’t mean they’re safe and it doesn’t mean they’ve got good communication skills. Check out and make sure you’re happy before committing to situation where you are relying on that partner.
10) Some partnerships won’t work:
Sometimes you have to accept that a climbing partnership isn’t working due to communication issues and you may have to get a different climbing partner.
Do you have some great tips? If so, let us know via email or comment below.