The Change Curve In A Nutshell

The change curve is a model describing how people emotionally respond to change. The change curve model was created by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe the five stages of grief terminally ill people go through. Further versions comprise eight stages that go from denial, anger, frustration, depression, acceptance, exploration, commitment and growth.

Understanding the change curve

The change curve model was created by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe the five stages of grief terminally ill people go through.

Her work was highly acclaimed, leading to the concept being adopted in the business world to define how people respond to different types of organizational change. As a result, it is still sometimes referred to as the Kübler-Ross model.

Workplaces are stressful at the best of times, with negative emotions associated with restructuring, redundancy, managerial staff, work requirements, and new technology. Many employees are simply comfortable with the status quo and actively resist change – no matter how beneficial it may be for them.

Several variations of the model now exist, but most incorporate basic emotional stages since most people react to change in more or less the same way. We will take a look at these stages in the next section and explain how they can be used to accept and even embrace change.

The eight stages of the change curve

For best results, the individual should move through the different stages of the curve linearly and as quickly as possible. Managers can also smooth the change process by understanding where each employee is on their journey and providing the appropriate support.

Here is a look at each step of the curve adapted from the original grief-based Kübler-Ross model:

  1. Stage 1 (Denial) – the first stage of denial or shock is usually short-lived. Employees may act defensively when told that change is imminent and pretend it is not happening. This often leads to a decrease in productivity as they become fixated on the past.
  2. Stage 2 (Anger) – at some point, the gravity of the situation hits, and the employee angrily looks for someone or something to blame. Anger may be directed at colleagues, superiors, the self, or the economy. At this point, the individual becomes lost and uncertain about their future. 
  3. Stage 3 (Frustration) – in the third stage, the individual tries to delay or postpone the inevitable. They may also try to negotiate a better outcome with the person instigating the change.
  4. Stage 4 (Depression) – here, the individual is despondent and experiences negative emotions such as sadness, regret, fear, and guilt. Their confidence falters and they believe everything they are doing is a waste of time.
  5. Stage 5 (Acceptance) – with time, the individual gradually comes to accept the change. With acceptance comes a genuine desire to investigate the possibilities of a new future and how to make the most of it.
  6. Stage 6 (Exploration) – as confidence begins to build, the individual becomes more enthusiastic about change. They envision themselves adapting to change by visualizing how they might benefit. They plan for a positive future and can solve the inevitable teething problems they encounter along the way.
  7. Stage 7 (Commitment) – with acceptance and planning comes commitment. The post-change environment becomes the new status quo.
  8. Stage 8 (Growth) – the growth stage is not included in many change curve models, but it is worth mentioning. In this final stage, the individual flourishes in their position and crucially is better able to deal with change the next time it occurs.

The entrepreneurial rollercoaster

For entrepreneurs understanding these emotional cycles is extremely important. Indeed, the entrepreneurial journey is made of many ups and downs, and often times those happen in the same day. This is even worse for those trying to build something completely new. Therefore, it’s important to understand the emotional rollercoaster to be able to deal with it and build a successful business.

Key takeaways:

  • The change curve is a model describing the emotional journey people undertake when responding to change.
  • The change curve was created by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe how terminally ill patients approach death. It has since been adapted and expanded for use in business contexts.
  • The change curve has many variations, but an eight-stage curve is the most detailed. The eight stages are denial, anger, frustration, depression, acceptance, exploration, commitment, and growth.

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