Picture a grey rock: Unremarkable, forgettable, and similar to countless others scattered nearby. Even the most enthusiastic collector probably wouldn’t have a lot to say about this rock.
So, if you wanted to escape notice, becoming a grey rock might seem like a good way to go about it. Of course, people can’t actually turn into rocks, but that’s where the idea of grey rocking comes from.
Ellen Biros, MS, LCSW, a therapist in Suwanee, Georgia, describes grey rocking as a technique for interacting with manipulative and abusive people. This can include people with narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder as well as toxic people without a mental health diagnosis.
“This strategy involves becoming the most boring and uninteresting person you can be when interacting with a manipulative person,” Biros says.
She goes on to explain that since people with manipulative personalities feed on drama, the duller and more boring you seem, the more you undermine their efforts to manipulate and control you.
Here are six tips to keep in mind if you’re considering this strategy.
Recognizing a friend, family member, or partner’s toxic or manipulative behavior may prompt you to begin taking steps to safely end the relationship and cut off contact.
But this isn’t always possible. For example, you might need to continue co-parenting with them, see them regularly at family gatherings, or work with them.
That’s where grey rocking can help. By making all of your interactions as uninteresting as possible, you avoid giving the other person anything they can use to manipulate you. Over time, they may stop trying.
Matt Morrissette, MEd, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Boise, Idaho, also suggests grey rocking can help when someone you’ve broken up with or turned down for a date doesn’t get the message.
If you have to maintain some contact with them for whatever reason, keeping your conversation completely non-stimulating could lead them to lose interest and move on, he explains.
If you’re being stalked or otherwise fear for your safety, it’s best to seek legal advice and involve law enforcement instead of relying on grey rocking.
Toxic and manipulative people thrive on conflict, thrill, and chaos, Biros explains. To make yourself less appealing, you want to seem more lackluster and uninteresting.
If they ask questions you can’t avoid answering, keep your face blank and your response vague. Biros suggests giving replying with “mm-hmm” or “uh-huh” instead of “no” and “yes.”
If you need to answer work-related questions more fully, it’s helpful to avoid infusing your response with any personal opinion or emotion. This can help keep someone from grasping at small details they might try to manipulate you with.
Say a co-worker who likes to create drama asks, “Can you believe these new policies? How do you feel about them?”
You might respond with a shrug and “eh” without looking up from your work or making eye contact. Sticking to this noncommittal response, even when they persist, can make it seem as if you really have nothing more interesting to say.
“Avoid eye contact with the manipulative person when practicing grey rocking,” Biros recommends.
Since eye contact helps facilitate an emotional connection, focusing on another activity or looking elsewhere can help you remove emotions from the interaction. It can also help reinforce your sense of detachment.
Toxic people, particularly those living with a narcissistic personality, are often looking for attention. By giving your attention to another activity, you send the message you won’t give them what they need.
Directing your attention elsewhere can also help distract you from attempts at manipulation. Toxic people may make cruel and negative remarks to get a response, and this can be really upsetting. But having something else to focus on can help make it easier to avoid showing emotion.
If you don’t have a project or paperwork close by to distract yourself with, you can try disengaging by focusing mentally on something more pleasant, such as your favorite place or a person you really care about.
In some situations, you might need to have fairly regular conversations with a toxic or abusive person. Maybe your parent or co-worker has narcissistic traits, or you co-parent with a manipulative ex.
Communicating electronically or by phone may work well here, since doing so allows you to avoid prolonged interactions that might cause stress and make it harder to maintain a grey rock facade. But grey rocking can work for any type of communication.
Remember to keep responses as brief as possible, saying things like, “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know” without further explanation.
If you’re managing a co-parenting schedule, limit communication to pick-up and drop-off times.
“Do not tell the manipulative person you’re grey rocking,” Biros says.
The goal of grey rocking is to get the other person to lose interest in you on their own. If they realize you’re trying to make yourself seem dull on purpose, they can use this knowledge to further manipulate and attempt to control you.
Instead of giving them any clues about the technique, work toward treating them as a stranger you have no emotional connection with. Remind yourself that you have no obligation or need to share anything extra with them.
That said, spending a lot of time in this mode can start to affect how you express yourself in other areas of your life, so it can be helpful to tell people you trust about what you’re doing.
It’s important to take care not to lose sight of yourself when grey rocking.
“Grey rocking requires a disconnect from your emotions and feelings,” Biros explains. “So it’s possible to experience symptoms of dissociation or complete disconnect from your own feelings and emotions.”
You may find it helpful to talk to a therapist if:
- you begin having trouble connecting with people who are important to you
- it becomes difficult to express yourself within the positive, healthy relationships in your life
- you feel like you’re losing your identity or self-awareness
It might seem helpful to temporarily change your appearance to make yourself seem less physically interesting, by wearing plain clothes or taking less care with your appearance, for example.
But Morrissette points out that these changes may affect your sense of self-identity and self-empowerment. Before making any physical changes, it might help to talk to a therapist who can offer guidance on the most helpful approach for your specific situation.
It’s always wise to involve a mental health professional when you have to maintain contact with an abusive person, especially when that person is a family member or co-parent. Therapists and other professionals can help you develop healthy coping strategies and work with you to explore other approaches if grey rocking, or any technique you try, doesn’t seem to help.
Toxic or emotionally abusive people can be pretty difficult to interact with, to put it mildly. They might lie, create drama, or pick arguments frequently. Over time, manipulation tactics, such as gaslighting and fact twisting. can wear you down, affect your self-esteem, and make you question yourself.
Cutting off contact with toxic people is often the only way to keep them from continuing to cause emotional harm. But when this isn’t possible, grey rocking may work as a technique to get the manipulator to lose interest. If they can’t get anything beyond bland, emotionless answers from you, they may give up.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.