What Is the Gray Rock Method?


Take a moment to imagine a small gray rock sitting in the palm of your hand. It’s silent, smooth and otherwise unremarkable.

Are you bored yet? If so, that’s kind of the point.

Most people will eventually lose interest in a dull piece of granite. So there’s a theory percolating online that if you adopt the qualities of a stone, becoming impassive and bland, then you will repel the argumentative, antagonistic people in your life who are itching for conflict.

It’s called the “gray rock” method, and over the last decade it has spread on social media, including among TikTok influencers, who have shared strategies to channel your inner rock. It even surfaced on a recent episode of the reality show “Vanderpump Rules,” when a cast member, Ariana Madix, said that using the technique had helped her avoid toxic interactions with her ex-boyfriend, Tom Sandoval, who had been unfaithful.

The goal of the gray rock technique is to disengage without ending contact, said Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and the author of “It’s Not You: Identifying and Healing From Narcissistic People.” People who gray rock remain neutral, keep their interactions “trim and slim,” and avoid sharing information that could potentially be turned against them, she added.

But while some psychologists say that the method is helpful under certain circumstances, it isn’t always the right solution.

There isn’t an official set of rules for gray rocking. The method has not been studied, nor is it derived from an evidence-based psychological practice.

But, in general, you can think of gray rocking as a form of emotional disengagement, Dr. Durvasula said.

Antagonistic people are usually looking for a fight, she added, and gray rocking can be one way to keep the peace and avoid “getting into the mud with them.”

It is especially effective in written communication, like texting, as a way of avoiding long, meandering messages, she said. The strategy can also be useful at work, she added, where concise communication is often valued.

Many variations on gray rocking exist. One communication coach on TikTok demonstrated various ways to avoid being “overly icy or awkward,” a process she calls “soft gray rocking.” For example, she said, if someone asks you how a job search is going, instead of explaining how hard it has been you can talk about the different networking events you’ve attended.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, conversations can become heated. If the person with whom you’re interacting remains disrespectful, dishonest or manipulative, then you may be better off severing contact, Dr. Durvasula said. But not everybody can do that immediately, especially if the relationship involves a close family member or a spouse.

Tina Swithin, the founder of One Mom’s Battle, a website and online community for people who are divorcing someone with narcissistic tendencies, recommends the “yellow rock” technique, particularly when coparenting.

Unlike the gray rock, which is “cool to the touch and a bit aloof,” the yellow rock “has an air of friendliness,” she wrote in her guide for parents navigating the family court system.

According to Ms. Swithin, a person using the yellow rock technique might say: “While I do not agree with you, you have every right to feel the way you do.” Or: “I’m hoping we can both take time away from this topic to regroup as we are not going in a positive or productive direction. Let’s revisit this next week.”

While Dr. Durvasula counsels clients in her private practice on how best to use the technique — and has even given away gray rocks as gifts during book signings — she didn’t learn about the method in school. Rather, gray rocking seems to have been created outside the realm of psychology. To her best recollection, Dr. Durvasula had stumbled upon the terminology online, more than a decade ago, she said.

One of the earliest references appears on the website Love Fraud, which is run by Donna Andersen.

Ms. Andersen said she created Love Fraud in 2005 to warn others about con artists and psychopaths after she said her then-husband had stolen a quarter-million dollars and had numerous affairs.

In 2012, one member of her online community, who chose to remain anonymous, wrote an essay titled “The Gray Rock method of dealing with psychopaths.” If breaking contact is impossible, the essay advised, one escape strategy is to give dull, monotonous responses during a conversation.

“Psychopaths are addicted to drama, and they can’t stand to be bored,” the writer continued.

Lara Fielding, a behavioral psychologist in St. Helena, Calif., and the author of “Mastering Adulthood,” cautioned against using gray rocking for long periods of time.

“I would call this a distress tolerance technique,” she said, best reserved for when you’re in crisis mode. Sometimes, she added, you “do what you need to do to not make the situation worse.”

But, over time, gray rocking can become ineffective, she added, “because you are cutting yourself off from your authentic feelings — essentially denying your own needs.”

If you decide to do it, she said, ask yourself three questions: First, is it effective? Second, how long can I do this before it harms me? And third, am I working to solve the problem if I have to do this very often?

In some cases, the person you’re gray rocking might become aggravated that you aren’t speaking to them as you normally would, leading to more tension, Dr. Durvasula said.

If you want to maintain this relationship, the V.A.R. method, which stands for Validate, Assert and Reinforce, can potentially help establish boundaries and de-escalate the situation.

Dr. Fielding offered these examples:

Validate: “I see that this is upsetting you.”

Assert: “At the same time, this discussion is stressing me out a bit. So could we take a break and come back to it?”

Reinforce: “If we can take a little break or if you could bring your voice down a bit, I will be able to hear you better.”

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