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The Change Curve

The stages of the change curve

It’s important to understand that the stages of the change curve don’t necessarily follow one after the other. Grief, which can be applied to any major change, is a deeply personal experience; it’s never clean, nor is it linear, and it’s different for everyone.

In general, when faced with change, people follow a curve based on the five stages of grief. The name of each stage varies from one interpretation to the next, but each change curve outlines the same process.

Shock and denial

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, especially unexpected changes, bring on overpowering emotions that trigger our defense mechanism. We don’t want to believe the news, so we pretend it’s not really happening. This is a necessary step that gives us time to absorb and begin to process the new information.

But we can’t deny it forever, and we’re often forced to face reality before we’d like to, which means this stage is often the shortest. As our initial defense mechanism begins to wane and we’re confronted with the reality of our situation, powerful emotions begin to rise.


As the gravity of a situation becomes more evident, we become angry, and we usually direct that anger at some outside force. In the case of a business, the anger might be directed at the business owner, manager, or economy that is forcing these changes.

Anger is the other half of our defense mechanism; it masks our deeper emotions as well as the reality that we will, in fact, have to adapt. This stage covers a range of feelings from pervasive irritability to full-on rage.

Bargaining and self-blame

Eventually, the anger turns inward, and the wheels begin to spin in our heads. Is this change my fault? Am I bad at my job? Do we really have to make the change? Can’t we avoid it?

Once we start to understand the change is really happening, and there’s nothing we can do about it, then we want to delay it or make compromises. Okay, I understand the change is happening. What if I incorporate a few of the changes but mostly stick to what I know? What can I say or do to get out of the change that will occur?

Depression and confusion

At this point, there’s no more running. There’s nothing we can do to change the situation. Plus, learning a new thing is hard, and our confusion makes it easy to get down on ourselves. We may feel listless, unmotivated, foggy and confused, and generally apathetic toward our job. Why aren’t I getting this? There’s nothing I can do.

These feelings of sadness, although deeply unpleasant, are a necessary part of the healing process. It means we’re beginning to accept reality, even if we don’t like it.

Acceptance and exploration

It may take time, but eventually, we resign ourselves to the change. Once we accept it’s inevitable, we have no choice but to adapt and explore what the change has to offer. We engage with the new situation and begin to experiment.

Problem solving and integration

Although not part of the original five stages of grief, this is an important additional step for dealing with change in the workplace. At this stage, we do more than simply accept the situation; we begin to feel positive about it. We feel renewed and can problem solve effectively. Once we’re past the learning curve, we can begin to integrate the changes and move forward with confidence.

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