"In my defencelessness my safety lies" - a course in miracles
Here's one thing I've learned by being a litigation lawyer - the best response is often comes from no response. People will project what's going on for them and their own negative states onto you - and the most powerful thing we can do is to NOT react. This doesn't mean retreating, but it means choosing to not engage in negative behaviours and mud slinging just to feel like we have protected ourselves - we know the truth of who we are.
While the first response might be to want to share harsh words back in order to feel like we defended ourselves, it's way better to pause and say nothing or simply "I take a different position/feel different/see this differently than you".
My mum is a mud slinger. She is fiery and reactive and purposely pushes a lot of buttons. I learned the lesson young that instead of engaging with her negativity, it was better for me to hold the space for her instead of firing back. Once the dust settled, we were always able to talk about what the crux of the issue was and problem solve our way through it from a place of love.
I challenge you next time your friend is gossiping or someone around you is saying negative things to not get sucked into the drama and instead to CHOOSE PEACE by not defending yourself or engaging in the negativity.