The grey rock

How to shush an argument with your difficult spouse or with a narcissist

There are times you just can’t stand yet another argument. How do you stop it? By stating your compelling case? By calling out the other person’s ignorance? By yelling?

None of these are advisable. The answer is the grey rock, a technique by which you cut emotions out and reduce the information exchange, so to take oxygen away from the flames of the argument.

Communication is important, so is being clear about our intentions, because it prevents unpleasant surprises and disappointments later.

But if you’re reading this, you’re probably involved in frequent arguments.

You must understand that arguments and conflicts are not always an aspect of communication.

Sometimes people argue when they have different opinions and they need to come to an agreement, or at least to “agree to disagree”.

When you see a pattern of bringing up arguments way too often, by your spouse, your neighbors, your coworkers, then it’s no longer about communication or solving problems. It’s about frustration (in the best case) or about emotional dysregulation of the person who starts the quarrel. When this happens, there is no amount of rational talking that can end the argument, let alone verbal fight (“You’re stupid! You just don’t get it!”).

The only result is stress for everybody: you, the arguer, and the unwilling spectators, e.g. children!

At this point, the priority shifts to protect yourself from stress, not to show what’s right. You may have already understood nobody cares who’s right, at this point.

Here’s how the grey rock helps.

Grey rock means you impersonate a static, colorless, emotionless element.

This means 2 things.

  • Don’t show emotion, neither positive nor negative
  • Don’t add information to the matter

1. Don’t show emotion

When the other person is asking leading questions or expressing a derogatory observation, i.e. is about to start an argument, or the argument has already started, don’t show anger, frustration, or annoyance.

Sometimes these emotion trigger in the other person more passion to engage with you in a negative way. It’s like if they though: “how can they be so angry about such an evident fact I’m stating?”

Don’t show you’re amused or amazed either, for example about their perseverance or the irrationality of their assertions. They may find it disrespectful.

This does not mean you must not have emotions, but keep their expression to the minimum. Then you may try to let emotion out after you guys separate.

It will be hard at the beginning, but it’s worth and you’ll get used to it.

2. Don’t add info

During this kind of arguments, don’t just be silent, but don’t say anything meaningful either.

Everything you’ll say will be used against you! In other words, any statement will give them the hook to argue about something else. After all, as we said, the point is not addressing a specific topic, but to dump their emotional dysregulation on you.

So, for example, use the following expression

  • “ah, ah”
  • “I see”
  • “I see where you’re coming from”
  • “I understand you think that way about it”.
  • “I have the right to think that way”.
  • “We are allowed to have different opinions”

Don’t say you agree, because they will hold you accountable about that.

Don’t say you disagree too openly, to avoid escalation.

Most of the time this will work because you’ll become so boring to them, that they will understand you are not a good source of emotional supply.

Grey rock is reportedly a highly effective technique. Many people report they used it successfully with narcissistic partners and with annoying coworkers and so reduced their stress. However, it is to be used for a limited period. After, you need to do something about the continuing situation, for example addressing your marital issues or ask the management to move you to a different desk.