What is Stonewalling?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Stonewalling involves the use of various tactics to delay or derail a conversation. The term is generally associated with refusal to cooperate, or a deliberate attempt to render a conversation completely pointless. Many people find stonewalling to be extremely frustrating, especially when they are trying to address serious issues, although the tactic can also be used advantageously in some situations.

Stonewalling may refer to a person's refusal to answer anything when provoked by another.
Stonewalling may refer to a person's refusal to answer anything when provoked by another.

This slang term references a literal stone wall, which tends to be a significant obstacle. When someone stonewalls someone, he or she essentially acts as a wall in the conversation, making it impossible for things to proceed. One might also say that talking to someone who is trying to stonewall someone else is sort of like talking to a stone.

Politicians may engage in stonewalling when they refuse to answer questions about certain policies and issues.
Politicians may engage in stonewalling when they refuse to answer questions about certain policies and issues.

People can stonewall each other in a number of ways. The simplest is to simply stay silent, and to refuse to answer or react when questioned or provoked. Some people like to use this stonewalling technique when dealing with individuals whom they think are unreasonable, believing that by refusing to feed the conversation or altercation, they can end the situation more quickly, or at least encourage the other party to take a break and cool off.

Stonewalling may be utilized in the world of business to obtain delays that can be turned to an advantage.
Stonewalling may be utilized in the world of business to obtain delays that can be turned to an advantage.

Stonewalling can also be accomplished by artfully deflecting every question asked, refusing to answer questions, or responding to questions with additional questions. Answering questions obliquely or unclearly is also a form of stonewalling, as is parceling out information as meagerly as possible to prolong the conversation. In most cases, the goal of stonewalling is simply to create a delay, rather than to put the conversation off forever.

A wide variety of people in an assortment of situations can be accused of stonewalling. In politics, people are often accused of stonewalling when they refuse to answer questions about policy and issues, especially if such questions are asked by a committee which is supposed to be investigating a situation. Stonewalling also appears in interpersonal relationships, and in the world of business, where delays can sometimes be turned to critical advantage.

When someone is stonewalling you, you have a number of options. Some people find that it is better to walk away and let the other party think the situation over before trying again. Others think that probing will eventually create a crack in the wall which could be exploited, although this can take a while. Sometimes, simply stating an awareness of the fact that you are being stonewalled is enough to encourage cooperation.

Directing the course of a conversation is one way that people exercise control.
Directing the course of a conversation is one way that people exercise control.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Mammmood – I think you nailed it when you mentioned ego. Stonewalling psychology is the root of a lot of problems in marriage, and the root of stonewalling is pride.

Pride keeps people from being totally open and honest with each other. It keeps them from admitting when they’re wrong. It keeps them from listening to the other party.

Pride keeps someone from seeking help when they know they need it. They stonewall, ignore the sound advice, and go about their business. The only way to deal with such a person, ironically, is to quit asking them questions. Instead, create an environment where they’re free to open up.

You’ll find that people will eventually reveal themselves when they can do so without fear of condemnation or retribution.


@MrMoody - Stonewalling is usually meant to protect another party, so I wouldn’t go so hard on the politicians-even if they otherwise deserve it.

A stonewalling husband who’s had an affair, for example, might not tell his wife because he thinks he wants to protect her. Maybe he had a one-time fling and he’s determined that it won’t happen again. So he reasons that his wife should not find out, to protect her and their marriage.

I’m not defending the practice-maybe he thinks his wife wouldn’t be able to handle the truth. To quote a famous line: “You can’t handle the truth!” I think the wife can handle it, personally, and the husband is thinking more about his ego than his wife, despite his claims to the contrary.


Why do politicians stonewall so much in the face of an aggressive media that likes the scent of blood?

I realize elected officials sometimes get caught in scandals. But the best policy is just to tell the truth the first time around; the cover up is what gets them.

Sometimes the original crime, if indeed it was a crime, wasn’t so bad-but the cover up is much worse. Perjury will easily get you jail time, and there’s not a whole lot of slack there.


Stonewalling is a frustrating tactic to have to endure for the person wanting some feedback, but there are other ways to get the information you want when the other party is clamming up.

Study their body language. It won’t give you detailed information about what is going on inside, but it will tell you if they’re lying, tentative, intimidated, etc.

You can usually tell when someone has to pause to make up a story, or look down or shuffle when asked a pointed question. You don’t exactly know what the truth is, perhaps, but you know that they’re not telling it.


The slang expression, stonewalling, really covers a lot of territory in a lot of different relationship situations. I think that relations between teenagers and parents involves a lot of stonewalling.

In most cases, the parents are the aggressors. Teens will flatly refuse to listen to the parent's view point. They will clam up and not even consider a parent's plan and will not even negotiate. Usually, in the past, a teen has tried to get his way or negotiate some, but has given up. When confronted or stonewalled by parents, now, he or she just looks down and stomps off to his/her room, or leaves the house with the thought of doing some rebellious deed.

It's a tough few years for teens and parents, but usually passes and calmer times return.

Just an after thought. General Jackson, during the Civil War, was nicknamed "Stonewall Jackson."

I wonder if he had a habit of stonewalling?


If a husband or wife utilizes stonewalling, then perhaps a handwritten letter could get a reaction. Maybe the walled-up person feels uncomfortable discussing emotions verbally, and that person might possibly communicate through writing.


@rugbygirl - I do think that there are times when stonewalling is called for, but I guess you're right that stonewalling in a relationship means something is awfully wrong.

The times I think stonewalling is appropriate are mostly when facing intrusive questions or inappropriate criticism. Think nosy aunt, competitive friend, etc. These people often shut up, mercifully, when confronted with a blank stare.

But if your significant other is giving you reasons to stonewall, that in itself is a problem, and the stonewalling certainly won't improve matters!


Stonewalling kills marriage. But it's not necessarily a one-way street. A dear friend f mine has been accused by his wife of "stonewalling," and he is and he shouldn't. But she want to rehash the same issues over and over and over again and pick on him about every little thing. He just shuts down, which naturally makes her more upset.

If you've ever tried to talk to someone who's stonewalling, you know that it can make you desperate to get a response. That's what happens to her--she escalates and escalates. I hope they'll see a counselor and learn better communication techniques before it's too late!

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