Emotional stages of change

Change is the only constant. Going through transformation results in different emotional stages of change.  Constant change can be stressful: it challenges your ability to cope and can drain your resilience.

“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” Charles Kettering

Implementing change

When implementing change, organisations often focus on the systems, processes, and outcomes, but fail to understand or consider the emotional impact it will have on people. Equipping people both physically and emotionally to deal with change effectively will significantly develop the resilience of the individual, the team and the organisation.

  • Find out as much as you can about any impending changes or challenges
  • Understand the reasons for the changes or challenges and why it is happening
  • Determine what isn’t changing
  • Acknowledge what you will lose
  • Shift your negativity towards creativity, improvisation and problem-solving
  • Break down problems and challenges into bite-size pieces
  • Listen to others’ anxieties and fears
  • Engage other people in developing a shared vision of a realistic, optimistic future
  • Maintain a healthy balance between work commitments
  • Celebrate your small victories

Everyone goes through similar emotional stages of change when dealing with significant transformation.

Change curve

John M. Fisher is the Chartered Psychologist who researched and developed the Personal Transition through the Change curve. He presented at the Tenth International Personal Construct Congress, Berlin, in 1999, and subsequently developed his work on constructivist theory in relation to service provision organisations at Leicester University, England.


John M. Fisher’s Process of Transition curve explains how people respond to change through defined phases that are followed in succession until they accept the change. This change theory is based on earlier studies by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who identified various stages of grief.

Fisher’s model is more focused on business. He presented at the Tenth International Personal Construct Congress, Berlin, in 1999, and subsequently developed his work on constructivist theory in relation to service provision organisations at Leicester University, England.


Much of the actual transition through the phases is completed subconsciously. While some people move more quickly through the phases than others, everyone will need different things depending on which phase they are in. Deciding factors are their temperament, life experiences, perceived degree of control and so on.

The key to understanding the phases is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order.  Some people may also regress to an earlier stage depending on their situation.  Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the change process – it helps you understand and put into context where you and others are.

Keep in mind that everyone reacts differently.  Some people will readily show their emotions. Others will experience their emotions more internally.  You should try to not judge how a person experiences change, as each person will experience it differently.

See if you can relate to these 12 emotional stages:

1. Anxiety

You don’t really know what’s going to happen next, and you aren’t sure what any change will really look like at this point.

2. Happiness

You are feeling really good about the change as this will be the chance to get rid of things, systems and processes which you know don’t work.

3. Threat

You are unsure about how the change is going to affect you.

4. Fear

You are fearful of the way the change will force you into a new way of thinking, working and behaving.

5. Anger

Some anger and frustration are directed at others, especially those who you believe are responsible for forcing the change.

6. Guilt

You feel angry with yourself for not having coped as well as you believe you could have.

7. Despair

You may feel confused and apathetic and really start to wonder who you are.

8. Hostility

You show aggression towards yourself and others and the change, in general.

9. Acceptance

You become more emotionally detached from the situation and begin to make sense of your environment and the change.

10. Moving Forward

You start exerting more control and make more things happen in a positive sense.

Other pathways off the curve are:

11. Denial

Where you deny that any change is occurring at all

12. Disillusionment

Where you decide that the change does not fit with your value system and you decide to have nothing more to do with it.

Change can be a really valuable, exciting opportunity, with the right approach and focus, for organisations, for management teams – and, vitally, for people who will experience the changes and be the key people in taking the change forward to success.

Because with change comes a whole new set of emotions; it gives you the chance to authentically reconnect with who you truly are.

Coaching and empowering people through change are functions of effective leadership.  The role of the leader in times of change is to:

  • show the way, explain the change journey and give meaning
  • communicate (avoidance of delivering the message is not an option)
  • understand the emotional impact that change will have, care and empathise
  • clarify where there is uncertainty
  • empower people and challenge them where appropriate.

Image courtesy of Depositphotos

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I am an emotional intelligence coach, trainer, and facilitator with over 35 years’ business and commercial experience. I am the author of “The Authority Guide to Emotional Resilience in Business” and “The Authority Guide to Behaviour in Business” part of The Authority Guides series. I have the most comprehensive range of emotional intelligence courses available on the internet taken by over 250,000 learners in 175+ countries. If you would like to discuss how online learning can develop resilience, emotional intelligence, or leadership across your organisation, give me a call on 07947 137654 or email me at [email protected]