• The grey rock method is a defensive tactic; stonewalling is usually passive aggressive
  • Stonewalling may be subconscious; the grey rock method is always deliberate
  • The grey rock removes emotional connection; stonewalling usually removes connection in general

In today’s post we’ll see what stonewalling and grey rock mean, why they work, and why they are similar but different.

Without further ado…

Stonewalling in a nutshell

To “stonewall” someone means to refuse to engage in any type of meaningful communication with them.

For example, if you are in a relationship with someone and decide to stonewall them, you may…

  • Avoid eye contact and give them the “silent treatment”
  • Walk away when they attempt to communicate with you
  • Give brief, vague answers in a passive-aggressive way

Although stonewalling is often done as a form of punishment, the reasons behind it and the root issues behind it depend on many different factors.

Sometimes people use stonewalling as a way to protect themselves in toxic or even abusive relationships.

Sometimes it’s not done deliberately but is purely the result of an inability to communicate one’s feelings, or the belief that doing so would be inappropriate.

Or, people may stonewall when they believe their relationship won’t work and will inevitably come to an end; stonewalling would just speed up the process.

Origin of the term “stonewalling”

According to the Vocabulary website, the term originally appeared as a nickname for General Thomas Jackson, about 200 years ago.

However, psychologist John Gottman was the first to use the word in the context of romantic relationships.

He argued that stonewalling is the last and potentially most damaging of the “Four Horsemen” (communication patterns that signal the end of a relationship).

Grey rock in a nutshell

To use the “grey rock” method means to interact and/or respond with the least possible emotional connection.

For example, if you are being targeted by a narcissist and decide to grey rock them, you may…

  • Respond in unusually boring, uninteresting ways
  • Keep conversations as short and vague as possible
  • Show zero emotional involvement (detachment)

The grey rock method doesn’t just make you less vulnerable — it also removes the element of drama that manipulators often feed off.

Think: as long as you don’t invest any emotions, there cannot be any negative emotions (the manipulator’s end goal).

The grey rock method doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”. In other words, you don’t have to act like some kind of emotionless robot.

If you do, your behavior will clearly look unnatural and may actually have the opposite effect on both you and the person you interact with.

Instead, you want to simply detach — basically act like a very boring, unexciting person would.

Origin of the term “grey rock”

According to the Dictionary website, the term first appeared in 2012 to describe “the most boring, uninteresting thing (…)”.

Since then, the term became increasingly popular, especially in blogs covering relationship advice.

Today, the phrase “grey rock method” and its variations get searched on Google tens of thousands of times each month.

Stonewalling vs grey rock: differences

  • Stonewalling is passive-aggressive behavior, whereas the grey rock method is just passive (it’s often used for self-protection when dealing with manipulative or toxic people)
  • Grey rock is a psychological technique which means the person knows what they are doing; stonewalling, by contrast, may stem from an inability to communicate or confront an issue
  • Grey rock is more subtle as it only requires emotional dis-connection, whereas stonewalling implies a more radical absence of communication, similar to the “silent treatment”

Both types of behavior can be effective as they remove the element of communication and emotional involvement.

In an ideal world, there would be no need to use the grey rock method and you would simply address the issue directly.

But what if…

  • You have been targeted by someone who is clearly manipulative and ghosting isn’t an option?
  • You tried to address the issue in the past yet the other person repeatedly refused to listen or understand?
  • The other person tends to feed off drama or any type of emotional imbalance?
  • You believe a more straightforward approach would get you in trouble or trigger unwanted reactions?

Final thoughts

When dealing with manipulative people, focus on maintaining inner balance (stillness) before you even think of any tactic.

If you are able to keep your cool, then being emotionally uninvolved comes naturally and doesn’t need to be faked.

And no, you don’t have to turn off your emotions completely.

The trick is to be as “boring” as possible, keep things to yourself, and attribute zero importance to the other person’s opinion of you.

  • Do they compliment you? Be a grey rock.
  • Do they criticize you? Be a grey rock.
  • Do they disagree with you? Be a grey rock.

You get the point.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!