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5 Fields of Conversation: How to redirect an unhappy exchange into a healthier place

There are fields of conversation you can control.

It’s true that strong and healthy relationships are not void of conflict. All relationships have contention here and there. What matters is how you handle the conflict.

Studio 5 Relationship Contributor Dr. Matt Townsend says that we can redirect all unhappy conversations into a happier and healthier place by following a conversational model.

For more from Matt, register for his REAL Communication/Real Connection couple’s workshop coming up on June 4, 2022. Registration is at under live courses.


How to Direct the Fields of Conversation

For millennia there have been topics and issues that caused contention, conflict, and distance in relationships. Although today it may feel like we are more and more divided as a people, the patterns of today’s conflicts follow the exact same patterns of conflict of old. Healthy conversations and unhealthy or unproductive conversations all have the same patterns with the healthiest conversations taking the shape of U and unhealthy conversations looking more like an ever-descending slippery slope or water slide. You can guide yourself through the conversations by noticing what you’re feeling along the way and turning each field toward the next healthiest field.


Field 1 – Politeness

  • Sometimes we are stuck in stage of “terminal niceness”
  • Very polite in language and demeanor, shallow, supports very little intensity
  • Differences are kept hidden.
  • Time slows down…you feel every moment of this situation and want to escape.
  • Silence is incredibly awkward so you might end up faking being pleased which perpetuates a lie or a false sense of self.
  • Lots of people tend to make a “move” or take a position and the followers jump on and follow and the non-followers get quiet and stay “Polite”, don’t oppose.
  • The Turning Point: You reach a “Crisis of Emptiness” where you just disavow any belief that anything can change, it’s almost a state of hopeless where you know nothing will change if we don’t open our mouths.

Field 2 – Breakdown

  • Driven by fear, impatience, disbelief, inability to take it any longer people start to unleash the kraken. The darker side of their belief system.
  • Here people start to say what they really think. They “take positions” others oppose those positions
  • Nobody is using their own thinking; they’re repeating the talking points on the issues. They’re regurgitating the same points you hear on cable news, talk radio and podcasts.
  • Nobody is listening but instead preparing to answer.
  • Politeness is thrown out the window
  • The “other” person is seen as the enemy!
  • The crowd or group is getting heated up.
  • Relationships, friendships are starting to melt down. The reality of loss of close personal trust and respect is now in jeopardy.
  • Silence in these moments end up holding tension.
  • Time seems to speed up as the clock is running out before something bigger is going to happen.
  • The Turning Point: “The Crisis of Chaos”. You begin to see you’re entering a space where you no longer have control over what happens, and they safety of the good old, safe polite stage is gone. The moment you can see that the conversation or argument is not going anywhere. In the Crisis of Chaos, you only have a three choices you can make.
  • Return to Politeness- Safe, ok, not progress but retreat, no real change is accomplished resulting in a safer sign of failure.
  • Fuel the Fight- Double down on the issue, Unsafe, status quo, indifferent to peace and relationship, sign of failure.

Choose To Mindfully Move to “Presencing”- Let everyone see you are not your opinions and that you have the ability to think, learn and grow.

Field 3 – Presencing

  • This is the biggest key to taking the conversation to another level.
  • Presencing is being mindful. Change the direction of the conversation by not longer just offering positions and arguments, but instead by suspending your certainty
  • It’s understanding what is really driving your reaction, getting present in the moment, and getting curious about the others position.
  • It is an act of intentionally staying in the moment and “Letting Go” of what you need to let go and “Letting Come” whatever new ideas or thoughts come.
  • We stop the automatic patterns, the typical “he said, she said” and see that the emotion is showing us that it is time to get present in the conversation.
  • Presencing allows you and other you’re talking to see that you are not your positions
  • Presence is a process of Suspending your certainty or beliefs that things need to be a certain way, in a certain order. Suspending is literally allowing others, ideas, and their thoughts to just be what they are.
  • The Turning Point: Here emerges the “Crisis of Thinking” that comes by nobody suspending their own certainty and positions. Suspending is when you are noticing the lack of suspending your certainty and that you are not actually thinking, but just reacting to the preset positions and thoughts someone else gave you.

Field 4 – Inquiry

  • Inquiry is the field or spirit of real curiosity in the position of the other. It creates a sense or feeling that you don’t necessarily agree or disagree and no one is going to compel you either way.
  • Inquire might be where you evaluate the process of where you’re talking also and try to create more safety in understanding the other’s poison.
  • Perhaps you can even reflect upon the rules themselves and intentionally change them, so the space is more open to inquiry.
  • It’s where you’re open not to “Insight” learning that comes from inside you but “outsight” which is the collective learning that comes from others and the collective group.
  • In the field of inquiry silence is thoughtful, reflective. Here time seems to flow more freely, and we might be able to escape.
  • The Turning Point: Here we must engage the “crisis of fragmentation,” where we can be something new together. Where instead of just inquiring into the parts of the argument that we both see differently we inquire into what we share together.

Field 5 – Connecting

  • Koinonia is a state of fellowship or brotherhood.
  • This is the rarest field of them all.
  • This is where both parties begin to address the crisis of the parts by seeing the whole picture together.
  • You might see a state of positivity or “flow” or “collective flow” that emerges between the two people as they begin to interact in the common pool of meaning.
  • There is an experience of “flow” or “collective flow.” People can speak from and interact in a pool of common meaning.
  • We may not be able to solve the problems of the world by we can soothe them and become better partners in understanding the complexities and possibilities of the world.
  • The hard part of the dialogic world is that eventually you have to enter back into the world knowing that you two have created something special that the rest of the world doesn’t understand.

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