Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Although the holiday season brings people together and can be a time to reconnect and enjoy the company of family, friends and colleagues, it can also be a time of great stress. This is especially true for introverts or those who are looking to avoid conflict. In a group of dynamic personalities, it’s just not always possible for everyone to get along.
Sometimes spending a few hours with people can feel like a few weeks, and this dynamic is multiplied when there’s a narcissist in the group. They might seem well-intentioned, but deep down they thrive on creating chaos and conflict. Who wants to deal with that over the holidays?
If this is an issue that you’ve dealt with in the past, or if you see yourself dealing with it in the future, it’s time to learn about “grey rocking.”
Related: 3 Reasons Why Narcissists in Your Organization are Impossible to Evaluate
What is grey rocking, and when can you apply it?
Grey rocking is named after an object that most find boring. The concept is that when someone you are looking to avoid is interacting with you, try to become like a grey rock. Make yourself as uninteresting and dull as possible. This will be unappealing to someone with narcissistic traits, and they will move on to interacting with someone else at the gathering.
Narcissists strive to interact with people who exhibit personality and are responsive to their demands. When someone exhibits themselves as a metaphorical grey rock, the narcissist will realize that they can’t manipulate the person because they hold no power over the dull personality that is being exhibited.
The grey rock method is also useful against bullies, including those in the workplace.
Related: The 4 Most Toxic People at Work—And How To Handle Them
Does the grey rock method work?
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that you can only control yourself. You will not change the narcissist or their outlook on life. However, this method can help you avoid them.
If used properly, grey rocking will work for some time. In terms of avoiding narcissists and toxic people, the method is highly effective for all of the reasons laid out above. People who exhibit the negative characteristics of a narcissist or bully thrive on interacting with people who respond to their words, both visually and verbally, which allows them to manipulate their behavior. When someone is a grey rock, they aren’t interesting or exhibiting any of the feedback that these negative people want to achieve. This will make a narcissist miserable, and they will move on to someone else.
However, it is also important to note that the grey rock method is not a cure-all. It is simply one method for avoiding toxic, negative people. The method can also become less successful if it is over-used.
Related: How to Recognize and Work With Narcissistic Leaders
What are some benefits of the grey rock method?
When it comes to the holidays and interacting with family or coworkers, it’s just not possible to entirely avoid the people you might not speak to the other 11 months of the year. Therefore, grey rocking becomes useful in keeping the peace and avoiding conflict.
Other benefits of grey rocking include less stress, less anxiety, feeling empowered, better emotional health, better mental health and realizing that you can set boundaries.
What are some negative effects of the grey rock method?
Even though grey rocking is a strategy meant to be used to avoid toxic people or uncomfortable and negative situations, there are some possible side effects of using the strategy.
If used too much, grey rocking could lead to loneliness and withdrawal. Even though this is purposeful behavior, it does result in less interaction with people. This can lead to negative mental health consequences. It’s important to be mindful of this fact — too much isolation can result in loneliness and depression.
And although grey rocking can be successful in moderation, if you use the strategy too often against the same person, they could realize what is going on. This could lead to the opposite effect of what you are looking for — the bully could realize they indeed do have power over your life because they’re forcing you to behave differently than you normally would.
If you use the grey rock strategy and find that you are experiencing negative mental effects, make sure to seek professional help.
Related: Your Narcissism Is Killing Your Employees’ Productivity. How to Avoid the Pitfalls.
What if the grey rock method doesn’t work?
There are several alternatives to avoiding people, conversations and situations a person doesn’t want to be in. The grey rock method is one strategy, but you can try other techniques as well.
You could try to avoid the individual or group of people, though this will be especially hard during the holidays. If forced to be around the narcissistic individual, you could try setting clear boundaries for the conversation, being assertive and perhaps even being confrontational about the narcissist’s behavior if the situation calls for it.
There are risks for these strategies as well, just as there are risks for using the grey rocking method. Use the strategy that you feel best suits your situation and the dynamic personalities that have to be dealt with this holiday season (and in the future).
Related: How to Deal with a Toxic Coworker