Actually, We’re Run by Pre-Adolescents: Why Reason Deserts us at Make or Break Moments…and Restoring Sanity

I was recently chatting with a good friend, Mark Hurwich, about some of the struggles we encounter when it comes to walking into a sales meeting. I think Mark hit the nail on the head when he spoke about how we can really be run by inner pre-adolescents that can take over even when we’re the most prepared–inevitably keeping us from closing a sale. I asked him to speak more on the subject–and it turned into this week’s guest blog post.


Isn’t it amazing? You diligently trained—be it around trust, negotiation, whatever. You did homework and composed your mind. And now, 15 minutes into a critical meeting, you’re hiding out, puffing yourself up, or…or, anything but demonstrating that mature partnership-building way of being you earnestly practiced.

What happened?

Quite probably, you were hijacked by parts of you that got their jobs when you were between a toddler and 12 years old…parts that haven’t matured much since pre-adolescence!

The longer story: We like to think we’re rational beings who operate in an integrated, intentional way. And when life is calm, that’s passably true.

But when threatened, we get triggered, and reason takes a back seat to our emotional programming. Like if you’re trying to build trust in a selling situation and a client asks you to talk about experience in an area you don’t have. Or, negotiating when your job is at risk. Despite all the training you got about how honest, vulnerable disclosure builds trust. When the stakes are high it can be SOOO hard to speak a truth you think a client would prefer not to hear.

Why is that hard?

Internal Family Systems shows that when threats move us from our essential Self, we go to a back-up system: parts of ourselves that were recruited in situations that have similar emotional signatures as the apparent threat. These parts take over our defense in that moment. So, when it feels like we are at risk of being judged as inadequate, we’ve got “managers” that puff up our credentials…and if that fails, we might even have “firefighters” that respond by undermining the person challenging us.

Ever find yourself in a sales conversation with the intention of developing a trusted relationship—but somehow treating your prospect as an adversary without knowing how you got there? That’s why.

Consider the kinds of experiences that recruited these parts to their jobs in the first place. Maybe…arguing with a sibling or quarreling on a playground in grade school? When these parts are animating you now, chances are your language has improved…but the emotional signature and energy hasn’t changed all that much. And while you were training to build skills, those pre-adolescent parts didn’t attend, so when a situation comes up that triggers them, they’re pretty much stuck where they used to be.

So, what can you do about it?

One way is actually to invite these parts of you into a dialog. Put yourself back in the situation where you started to get triggered. Notice where in your body that young/defensive energy seems to be located. Focus on that sensation as if it’s a little person. As you approach that part of you with compassion and curiosity, it can start to reveal what’s going on. Simply being self-present to these parts can help them—like young children, if they don’t experience you as present and trustworthy, nothing else can happen.

For example, in a situation like this, one client connected to parts largely created in a grade-school bullying scenario. To these parts, challenging questions from a prospect were a similar threat. Once he understood how these parts felt threatened, and the parts felt his connection to them, he was able to talk to them about what he could do to help them not be so scared. He told them it wasn’t their job to sell or negotiate…if they liked, they could even go to a safe place. The parts identified a place they loved in childhood (grandparents’ cabin), and he found that mentally checking in with the parts before a meeting and bringing them to this place gave him the ability to bring new skills to the selling situation. [The result, by the way, transformed this client’s perspective of a negotiating situation from a selfish act he didn’t have the right or enough skills to do to an authentic way to serve those he cared about—and a contract worth $500,000 above the initial offer.]

Once internal trust has been established, you can start to see parts as positively intended, but not having the best strategies to realize what they seek. Understanding parts’ positive intentions and fears as an ally opens the doors to finding a different strategy that satisfies these parts and enables you to apply the new skills you just learned.

Sometimes it helps to talk to another person, especially one trained in deepening your connection to deep intentions behind the skills you’re struggling to apply, as well as help parts relax into alignment with these intentions. You may have a friend or colleague with natural gifts along these lines. It’s also something I do with clients over the phone, by Skype, or in my office.

Good luck.


Mark Hurwich founded Concentrated Coaching to help entrepreneurs, innovative business leaders, and writers/other creatives who’ve become “stuck:” there’s something they have skills to do, but struggle to do it. For more info, visit ConcentratedCoaching.NET, or email Mark at [email protected]

2 replies
  1. Rich Sternhell
    Rich Sternhell says:

    Mark, An interesting and insightful column. I can certainly think of times when something less than my adult self was pulling the strings. It could take a sledgehammer to get me back on track. Rich


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  1. […] more self-management best practices to use when you’re triggered, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on other helpful conversational […]

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