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When You Have to Interact With a Manipulative Person You’d Rather Avoid, Act Like a Gray Rock

·576 words·3 mins

In a recent essay, I wrote about 10 things that I do that help me write openly about my life without going crazy in the process. After that article came out, I had several readers write back in response. One point in particular seemed to resonate with many folks, tip #6, in which I discuss how to deal with people who are trying to stir up conflict, the power of avoidance, as well as one helpful tool in the fight against drama: The gray rock method.

I heard from multiple readers who said that they’d heard of the gray rock method before without knowing what it was called. And that it’s a great tactic to be used not just in the specific circumstance I outlined in my article (in regards to online writing) but in general whenever you’re forced to deal with a manipulative person and a subject deserving of its own article.

Manipulative People Are Good at Laying Traps

Manipulative people are usually looking to provoke some sort of a response out of the people around them. And oftentimes it doesn’t matter what, so long as they’re getting the validation that comes from attention. And that attention doesn’t even necessarily have to be positive. In fact, manipulative people often welcome the kind of attention that others would consider punishment. Criticism can make them look like a victim to other people, which renders them blameless and virtuous. And most importantly, special.

In order to do this, manipulative people often play games. They lay conversational traps themselves or create ones in the words of others where they don’t exist. They’re known for drumming up conflict, taking exaggerated offense, accusing others of taking exaggerated offense, or any number of tactics. They just love to kick up a fuss.

Typically, you can sidestep a lot of these traps by avoiding that person altogether. But what do you do if you’re forced to interact with them (for example, you show up at the same event where you can’t leave because you’re working, etc.)? Avoiding or ignoring someone altogether is easier to do in virtual space but comes off as considerably more aggressive in person — and is easier for the manipulative person to spin into an affront on them. You know, another fuss.

How do you share space with someone like that without giving them ammunition to lay another trap?

Thankfully, it’s fairly simple. You use the gray rock method.

The Gray Rock Method

When you gray rock someone, you say as little as possible in response to them, and you keep the conversation as bland as humanly possible.

If they ask how you’re doing, you say something like, “I’m fine, thank you.” And say nothing else.

Don’t ask them questions. No small talk. Don’t volunteer details about your personal life. Be as boring as possible.

Stick to neutral facts. No opinions.

Don’t talk about the past.

Say nothing even remotely interesting.

Be as boring as a gray rock.

Technically, you’ll still be providing them with attention, but it’ll be such low-quality attention that it won’t be sufficient to hold their interest.

You’ll become so boring to them that they’ll leave you alone and find someone else to attack or complain about.

It’s basically how turtles have survived so long as a species. Move slowly. Pretend you’re a rock. And most people will leave you alone — especially ones who are vain, self-centered, attention-hungry, manipulative, or easily bored.


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