The “gray rock” method was, from what I can tell, coined by this blogger in this post. The idea behind gray rock is that people with narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder traits are drawn to dramatic interactions, so to get them to leave you alone, you should act as boring as possible.
Your responses should be short and bland, and you should give no interesting information that can spark a dramatic response. When dealing with people who are addicted to drama, being boring is a very useful technique that can work a lot quicker and more easily than you would guess.
Photo: Courtesy of DrPsychMom
Gray rocking also means that you do not divulge any personal information about your life that can later be used against you by people trying to draw you into a dramatic interaction.
Don’t discuss any concerns or worries you have about anything, anything about your relationships, anything deep about your work, nothing too much about your health, really nothing at all. Stick to topics like chores you are doing, your schedule, the weather, and whatever else the person finds very uninteresting. Never ask them questions, because that extends the interaction, and your goal is to limit the time spent talking.
Note that YOU may be the dramatic person in some of these interactions. That isn’t mentioned in the Gray Rock method but ironically for the name of the method, it is pretty black and white. There are more shades of gray in interpersonal interactions, and sometimes, as with the flirtation example below, you may be a big part of any problem, and your gray rocking is done to protect yourself from YOURSELF.
Gray rocking can be done with anyone, including:
- People who want to be friends/more than friends that you don’t like
- Your kids when they start drama
- Your coworkers when there is some dramatic thing going on at work
- Coparents when they make hurtful comments
- Spouses that are dramatic
- People who flirt with you when you are in a monogamous relationship (OR who you are just attracted to)
- And, of course, difficult parents/family members who try to start problems/gossip about each other/cause drama at family events, on the phone, or via text
Here are ways to use the gray rock technique on each type of person:
- A woman at work keeps asking you to hang out. You get drinks once but realize she likes to gossip about people at work which you don’t want to do, and you don’t want to hang out anymore. You gray rock her by being pretty bland and never engaging in any conversations with any emotion or drama.
- Your teenager says, “You never do anything for me! I hate you!” Usually, you engage in this and it ends up being a tremendous fight with slammed doors that later makes you feel ashamed of yourself. This time you nod and say, “Okay, sorry, let’s just talk later, I love you” blandly and quietly, and keep that tone no matter what else they say.
- Your coworker wants to bond over how “everyone” hates your boss and you know this is a bad conversation to get involved in if you want to keep your job. You say, “Hmmm” and change the topic to some uninteresting aspect of work.
- Your kids’ dad says you’re ruining the kids’ lives like your mom did to you. You say, “Hmmm, oh, by the way, I did buy them the socks like we talked about and they will bring the new socks to your house Tuesday.” When he says, “What? Did you even hear what I said?” you say, “Yes, I heard you. So we will have more socks which should prevent the sock problem and also they have some books from Scholastic to bring over.” (Coparenting is filled with so much boring crap to discuss that you can gray rock instantly and endlessly at any moment.)
- Your wife says you’re lazy and getting fat. You say, “Oh, hmmm, okay, so I am going to do the Home Depot run we talked about now.”*
- Your mother says that sleep training your child is cruel and you are a bad mother. You say, “Oh, okay,” and change the topic to some boring aspect of your home repairs.
- Of course, in situations where you can entirely stop speaking to the difficult person in your life, you can just do that. But that is not always possible and it isn’t always the choice you want to make, at least not right away. Gray rocking can give you some time you see if it’s possible to maintain superficial relationships with difficult people in your life before deciding to fully disconnect. And of course, in some cases, like when your teenager is very difficult, you cannot disconnect.
Note that gray rock should not be how you engage in a marital relationship long term. However, when your spouse is very moody and you are trying to make things work, e.g. by going to counseling, then gray rocking can be a good emergency response when they are out of control and you know that engaging will only lead to massive conflict in front of the children.
Most people are so scared of being thought of as boring that they never really try to gray rock anyone. It is amazingly useful. It feels insane and uncomfortable to maintain an intense emotion in the face of someone who is expressing no emotion at all. Most people will calm down very quickly when you do not engage in their emotional discussion because it feels useless and even embarrassing to be emoting in the presence of someone who is emotionally absent.
A last note: Gray rocking can also be done to avoid flirting with people when in a monogamous relationship. This is especially protective if you know you tend to be someone who is drawn to emotional or physical affairs. Attraction cannot be built when one person is being bland. Overall, post-infidelity, people who have cheated and who want to work on their marriages have to learn to gray rock people in their lives who pose a threat to their ongoing faithfulness.
Try gray rocking in some difficult situations with dramatic people in your life. At the very least, you will feel a bit more control over the situation. In a best-case scenario, you can “fake it till you make it” by first pretending to not care and then eventually truly not caring about what this person says, thinks, or does. Sometimes you may get drawn into drama again, but that should be treated as a minor relapse after which you can climb right back on your big gray horse.
Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.