People don’t fear change, they fear loss (that might be caused by the change). Five stages of every change initiative –
- Denial – there is no change, any suggestion of a change must be fake news.
- Anger – Denial turns to anger, to steel the subject, emotionally, against some negative outcome. Anger is almost always rooted in fear of something. Fear of loss.
- Negotiation – The realization or awareness of the change begins to set in. Resistance to the change takes the form of bargaining. Negotiation, compromise to stop the changes, or at least mitigate the loss the change may bring.
- Depression – Through negotiation, the emotion of anger turns to depression, resistance is futile, powerlessness sets in.
- Acceptance – As the reality of the change emerges, in all the shifts that take place, acceptance finally replaces depression and forward movement can finally begin.
This sequence was originally coined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to describe the emotional cycle of terminally ill patients facing their disease. She adapted the cycle to describe a similar cycle of grief. I call it the heart attack cycle.
First, there is denial you are having a heart attack. Anger replaces denial, what an inconvenient time to have a heart attack. Negotiation sets in, attempting to trade the reality of a heart attack for future church-going, swearing off drink or pasta. Depression sets in as the heart attack drains the power of the individual. Finally, acceptance. Yes, a heart attack is happening. The time it takes to make it through all five stages determines the amount of time it takes to call 911.
And, so it is with management, to assist our teams through change, to cope with the fear of loss. It’s not a heart attack, but we have to move through all five stages before we can move forward.