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.
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.
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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 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.