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5 things to help leaders deal with reactions to change

The transition curve and how it can help manage change

5 things to help leaders deal with reactions to change


It’s important for leaders to acknowledge the range of reactions to change, the thoughts and emotions behind this and the behaviours that could be a result of this.


The transition curve based on the work of Swiss psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s is widely used when thinking about reactions to change.



The transition curve above represents the normal range of feelings people experience when dealing with change in their lives, or the workplace. The stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance were first identified by Kübler-Ross in relation to grief but as any change involves loss at some level, they can also be applied to how people may respond when going through other types of work or personal change.


5 things to help leaders deal with reactions to change


When going through change it can be easy to focus on the actions needed to get the desired results. Taking a step back and considering the thinking, and mindset of individuals will help you manage the change process more effectively. Here are five points to help you with your thinking when using the Kübler-Ross model:


1) Avoid seeing this as a linear process
People will move around between the stages. Kübler-Ross recognised this when relating this to grief. You may occupy different stages for different periods of time, jump a stage, or even return to a previous stage. For example, you may have reached acceptance of the change and then you get further information that puts you back to shock.


2) Remember not everyone will go through this
Everyone will deal with change differently. Some people might immediately consider the change to be beneficial or, they may move through the stages quickly. Different levels and parts of your organisation may also experience and react to change differently. The Kübler-Ross model is useful to normalise peoples’ feelings and reactions to change but it is important to remember there are a wide range of thoughts and emotions that will be experienced differently, by different people.


3) Be aware that what you are experiencing may not be the same for others
Use the analogy of you as leader being a train driver. Imagine the line on the transition curve as a train track with a train making its way along the curve, going up and down and through the various stages. Imagine yourself as the driver in the cab at the front. People in your team will be in the carriages behind. You may have more information about the change, be more involved, or moving more quickly along the curve. Others may have only just heard about the change and are further back down the line. Involve others, get alongside people and help them to share their thoughts and feelings.


4) Watch out for people who get stuck
It’s possible for people to get caught in a stage, particularly in denial and anger. Think about how you, or others, could possibly help them to move on. Think about your communication and ensure you provide as much information as possible to help them with their thinking.


5) Always check-in with yourself
Finally, question where you are in relation to change. You need to look after yourself first to be able to help others move forward. What is your thinking about the change, is it helpful or hindering? What questions could you possibly ask yourself, what memories could you possibly recall and what future could you possibly imagine that would lead to helpful thinking about the change?



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