Locations:
Search IconSearch

How the Grey Rock Method Can Protect You From Abusive People and Toxic Interactions

Like a boring ol’ grey rock, the goal is to be unresponsive and uninteresting to dissuade a harmful situation

Silhouette of person turned away from group of people talking

If you’ve spent a lot of time on social media, you’re probably familiar with the phrase, “Don’t feed the trolls.” People who enjoy doing harm like to see that they’re getting to you. Grey rocking is a way of making sure the trolls (in this case, the harmful people or interactions you encounter in the real world) go hungry.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Clinical psychology fellow Brianne Markley, PhD, explains what the Grey Rock Method, or grey rocking, is, how to use it in your interactions with manipulative or abusive people, and what makes it effective in some (but not all) situations.

What is grey rocking?

“Grey rocking basically means disengaging from emotionally toxic interactions,” Dr. Markley explains. “However you choose to do it, you’re choosing not to respond or engage with an individual who is emotionally volatile — you’re making a conscious effort not to enter into that dynamic.”

At this point, chances are you’re thinking back on certain relationships or conversations from your past. Have you grey rocked somebody? Has somebody ever grey rocked you?

Odds are the answer is yes on both counts! You might not have a manipulative or abusive bone in your body, but we all have moments or relations where we … aren’t our best selves. So, it’s quite possible you’ve been grey rocked in those situations and didn’t even realize it. That’s because grey rocking isn’t obvious. And that’s by design.

Examples of grey rocking

As the name suggests, grey rocking is a way of making yourself boring, inconspicuous, unemotional and uninteresting. Dr. Markley lists a few common ways of grey rocking:

  • Making yourself too busy with tasks and appointments to spend time with a toxic person.
  • Participating in a conversation as little as possible. For example, limiting your responses to “yes” and “no,” or being very deliberate about what you do and don’t say. For example, you may use canned responses like, “Please don’t take that tone with me,” or “I’m not having this conversation with you.”
  • If the person is calling, texting or messaging you, waiting to respond, blocking them, putting up a “do not disturb” or away message or or simply leaving the message with a read-receipt and no other reply.
  • Ignoring or not responding to somebody.
  • Limiting eye contact with the person in question and keeping your facial expressions neutral.
  • Staying calm, cool and collected in your response, even when the other person is ratcheting up the volume or trying to pick a fight.

This is probably starting to sound a bit familiar, isn’t it? While they aren’t exactly the same thing, grey rocking is definitely reminiscent of stonewalling.

Grey rocking vs. stonewalling

The difference between grey rocking and stonewalling is in the intention. When we stonewall somebody, we’re either doing it because we can’t handle the difficult feelings we’re experiencing or because we’re being manipulative: We’re trying to punish somebody with our silence.

Grey rocking isn’t a punishment. It’s a defensive tactic. It’s the emotional equivalent of playing dead so the would-be predator loses interest and moves on.

Advertisement

Of course, playing dead doesn’t always work. And neither does grey rocking.

Does the Grey Rock Method work?

Should grey rocking be your go-to strategy for getting out of uncomfortable situations or relationships?

As with most questions about human behavior, the answer is: It depends.

Short-term effectiveness

“Grey rocking can work in some situations,” Dr. Markley says, “And it can be particularly effective in situations with individuals who have a certain pattern of behavior — like people who thrive on chaotic and explosive interpersonal interactions.”

People with personality disorders or narcissistic tendencies often need to get an emotional rise out of you. That’s why they communicate the way they do. They may not even realize it themselves, but they’re agents of conversational chaos. And they’re trying to manipulate you, like putty in their hands.

But if you’re doing your best impression of a rock, you aren’t giving them what they’re looking for.

Long-term effectiveness

Dr. Markley says that managing and minimizing your reactions may help slow down or disrupt an emotional rise in the short term. But it might not be the best long-term strategy.

Advertisement

“There might be other effective strategies. Moreover, grey rocking can take a mental toll on anyone if they have to do it frequently enough in their relationships,” she continues. “After all, just because you don’t offer an emotional rise while grey rocking doesn’t mean that you aren’t feeling one.”

While it may be difficult, Dr. Markley suggests reconsidering your relationship with anyone who’s constantly trying to rile you up, gaslight you, exploit you or do you harm.

“You need to think about whether, or how, you’d want to continue that relationship,” Dr. Markley recommends. “And it’s really important to work with a mental health professional to process those thoughts and feelings so they have somewhere to go. They don’t deserve to be held in and kept to yourself.”

Working with a qualified mental health professional is especially important if you conclude that the person you’ve been grey rocking should (or must) stay in your life.

“A therapist or counselor can help you find healthy coping outlets and engage with positive support systems. That’s a really important strategy for managing relationships that might take an emotional toll on you,” says Dr. Markley.

Do a safety assessment

As with all conflict-management strategies, there are some situations where grey rocking definitely isn’t your best move. If you have any concerns for your physical safety or well-being, suddenly changing your behavior could put you in danger.

If you’re experiencing abuse of any kind — be it physical, verbal, psychological or sexual — your best bet is to talk to a provider, a mental health professional, a friend or a loved one. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to somebody you know, avail yourself of the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s phone, text and chat options. They can help you make a safety plan and connect you to any resources you may need to end the relationship.

Grey rocking: Don’t feed the trolls

Grey rocking is the real-world equivalent of the social media advice that you shouldn’t “feed the trolls.” Instead of letting somebody manipulate or harm you — instead of giving them the big, dramatic, emotional reactions they crave — turn into a rock. We’re talking stone face. Little, no or only the driest, least interesting communication you can offer. You may even ignore or avoid them. Just like a social media troll, a toxic person will likely lose interest in you and move on to somebody else.

Grey rocking is a pretty effective strategy, but it isn’t ideal for every situation, and it can be difficult to sustain. After all, you aren’t a rock. You’re a person. And all those feelings you’re hiding from the other person are still there.

And of course, if you have any concerns about your safety, you should seek help from a mental health professional or somebody you trust. They can help you formulate a safety plan before making any big changes to the way you interact with somebody.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Older person smiling, taking in the outdoors
June 13, 2024/Mental Health
Put Intention Behind Your Walking Meditation

While walking, be mindful of your body, your mind, your place in the world and all five of your senses as you pave a path forward, one step at a time

Rainbow-colored heart hovering above healthcare provider's hand, with child sitting in exam chair
June 12, 2024/Parenting
How To Find an LGBTQIA-Friendly Pediatrician for Your Child

Local LGBT centers, online directories, visual cues and gender-affirming care or non-discrimination policies can all be helpful resources and cues

Male with arms outstretched toward hunched over female, with broken heart and holding hands wreath around her
June 10, 2024/Sex & Relationships
What Is the Cycle of Abuse and How Do You Break It?

The cycle of abuse is a simple theory for understanding relationship violence — but the model might not fit everyone’s situation

Person checking watch at a rail station
June 5, 2024/Mental Health
How To Be Patient: 6 Strategies To Help You Keep Your Cool

In a world where instant gratification is the norm, you can train yourself to be more comfortable waiting patiently

People volunteering at a food drive
June 3, 2024/Mental Health
How To Make — and Nourish — New Friendships When You’re an Adult

Look to activities you enjoy — or try a new hobby — to help foster meeting new people

Partners sitting at breakfast table on their phones
May 31, 2024/Sex & Relationships
What It Means To Be ‘Aromantic’

This romantic orientation involves little to no romantic attraction to others and exists on a spectrum

Teen caged in their own mind
May 24, 2024/Children's Health
The Teen Mental Health Crisis: How To Help Your Child

American teens are facing unprecedented rates of depression and suicide, but you can be there to support and help them

Male sitting on couch with head in hand, looking forlorn
May 23, 2024/Men's Health
Men’s Mental Health: 11 Tips for Taking Care of Your Whole Self

Learn to build a strong support system, identify unhealthy coping mechanisms and tend to your physical health

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad