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The gray rock method can help you deal with emotionally challenging people. A therapist explains when it works best.

a hand holding a gray rock
The gray rock method can help make you immune to manipulation. Ekaterina Lutokhina/Getty Images
  • The gray rock method can be used when dealing with emotionally immature people.

  • The technique involves giving short, boring answers until someone loses interest in you.

  • It can be a good option when other attempts to set boundaries haven't worked.

If you have an emotionally immature person in your life, it can be hard to keep the peace. They might constantly try to instigate conflict, overstep boundaries, or just offer up unsolicited comments and advice that get under your skin.

One solution is the "gray rock method," which "essentially unhooks you from the dynamic that that person is either consciously or unconsciously attempting to create," Annie Wright, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Berkeley, California, told Business Insider.

According to Wright, "gray-rocking" involves giving less information and maintaining a more neutral tone — in other words, making yourself as boring as a plain, gray rock.

For example, she said if a coworker gives you a backhanded compliment like, "You look so happy with your body size" with the implication that you gained weight, you can plainly say, "Yes, I am," with the aim of ending the conversation.

Wright shared three times you might want to use the gray rock method with someone in your life.

1. They always try to get a rise out of you

In her experience, Wright's clients often use the gray rock method with "people who are quite combative and want to engage in a fight" or who like to tear others down.

These people may be a reactive parent who has trouble regulating their emotions, or an overly critical caretaker who constantly finds fault in what you do.

Wright likened these interactions to a dance, where the gray rock method can make the dynamic more tolerable.

"The person with inappropriate behavior steps forward, expecting the other person to step back," she said. "If you change your dance steps, you change the dance."

2. You've tried setting boundaries in other ways, and it doesn't work

While the gray rock method can be very useful, Wright emphasized that there are other tactics you should try.

"I'm a big fan of asserting yourself as well," she said, which includes verbally setting boundaries and clearly stating your needs.

But even if you set clear boundaries, some people will push back against them again and again, which can be incredibly draining.

"Fighting is probably part of what the emotionally challenging person is looking to get out of us," Wright said. "So by engaging in the fight, even if we're able to assert our boundaries and name the behavior we don't like, we're still probably stepping into the dance that they want us to dance."

In that case, the gray rock method is a great way to shut it all down quickly.

3. You can't fully leave the relationship

While the gray rock method is often very effective, Wright recommended it as a temporary fix rather than a long-term solution.

For instance, if you're stuck at a job you can't realistically leave right now, you can use the gray rock method with an overbearing boss. But even then, she said it's good to question if there are other solutions, like going to HR or starting to look at other open roles.

On the other hand, there may be other people in your life that you will always need to interact with in some capacity, like a pushy in-law, and using the gray rock method can make those times more tolerable.

But in general, Wright said it's good to be mindful of how often you gray-rock around someone — and why. There's a big difference between doing it once a year at Christmas and a few times a week with a friend.

"I would question why one would remain in a friendship where you're now looking for tactics to diffuse the relational strain," she said.

If you're able to cut the strings entirely, escape always beats rock.

Read the original article on Business Insider