The problem: A close friend went on a total rant about a mutual acquaintance, to the point that it got uncomfortable for me. I thought she had blown the problem totally out of proportion. Should I have stopped her? Walked away?
Low road: You could default to that cherished modern solution to everything unpleasant and grab that (not-really) vibrating cellphone in your purse. “Sorry! I have to take this!”
High road: But something weird is up and I’m guessing it has little to do with the acquaintance. Maybe your friend hasn’t been sleeping or feels stressed about work or her kid. Maybe she feels insecure around this person, or threatened that you’re going to start hanging out with the other friend more than with her. Maybe the other woman offends her political sensibilities. Whatever the reason, the kindest approach is to offer validation wrapped in levity. Try, “So glad you like her!” or my late father’s favorite, “She speaks highly of you!” Even if she doesn’t laugh, she knows you’re listening. Then quickly change the subject to something neutral. I’d circle back in a day or two to check in: “You seemed really upset the other day and I was worried about you. How are you feeling today?”
Send questions about life’s little quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org.