Cheri Huber, a Northern California–based Zen teacher and author of some 20 books on mindfulness and compassion, suggests that the best way to handle a beloved complainer would be to gently redirect conversations so they emphasize your emotional bond.

“This is someone you care about, so of course you don’t want to tune them out or get angry,” she says. “However, you don’t want to get caught up in their negativity either.” It may be tempting to bond on shared negativity — political complaints, for example — but this blocks the chance of a more in-depth, more positive connection.

Huber recommends a three-step process. First, assure your friend that you’re listening. “You pay attention to their complaint and say, ‘You know, I hear you. I really do.’ You’re not saying, ‘I agree with you.’ You’re simply saying, ‘I hear you,’ and you’re expressing real sympathy and understanding.”

Then comes redirection, which conveys even more closeness. “You can say something like, ‘When we’re talking about that, I don’t feel like we’re really here together, and I really want you to be here with me, and me with you.’”

The point would be to focus on the value the relationship has for you. “I’m actually challenging myself,” Huber says. “Because if you’re negative, and I get negative about your negativity, well, we’ve gone from one to two negative people!”

Redirection is most effective if you follow it with a next step: suggesting something else to talk about, something personal that connects the two of you.

“You share something about yourself that’s indicative of the kind of intimacy that you’d such as the two of you to share,” Huber advises. That may be a hope or a problem — just not a complaint. Have some of these topics in your back pocket before you meet with your friend.

This approach will help you become more aware of when the conversation is veering away from connection and toward complaint. “At that time,” she says, “it can actually be fun for either individuals to roll your eyes, say ‘Let's begin again,’ and change direction to something positive.”

If this process doesn’t work, you may have to re­measure the relationship. If your efforts don’t succeed, they are able to still be valuable for you. “After all, the process is also your attempt to be a person who wants to be positive inside your relationships,” she notes. “Can you do that?”