In this short (8.5 minutes) video I explore one of the models that look at how people react emotionally to loss or major change. I thought it would be helpful to consider this model as we adapt to the restrictions forced upon us by the current Coronavirus pandemic to our work and home life. So this video is called “Change management: The change process – Emotions when reacting to change”.

See the video: The change process – Emotions when reacting to change


In my work, many firms ask me to help them manage change programmes. There is a mountain of books on the topic of change management. But before we talk about how best to plan and manage change programmes – from the organisational perspective – I ask them to consider the people who are confronted with change – the individual perspective.

Emotion plays a huge part. Yet too many leadership teams forget about emotions and plough on relentlessly with their carefully crafted change programme. Then wonder why it fails.

There’s a lot of psychology that is relevant to how humans react – or don’t react – to change.
And the recent Working From Home transition shows this in stark reality.

Kubler-Ross model of the process of change

The model I describe is based on the work of a Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying”.

Yes, it was originally based on bereavement but it has shown to be there for other types of change – particularly loss. We all grieve – to some extent – for the way things were before we were confronted with change. Especially when change is imposed upon us and we have little control as it is in the Coronavirus restrictions.

So the model – although it has been modified since – has five main stages. And I am going to try and illustrate them for you with some props.

At first there is SHOCK (OMG)
People are stunned. They cannot process the news or information. They effectively freeze.
They may find it difficult to take in information or communicate at all.

The FIRST major stage of the model is DENIAL (NOPE mug – this is one of my favourite mugs).
They do not believe or accept the news or loss or change. They think there has been a mistake. They cling to a false, preferable reality. They try to carry on as usual as if nothing has happened.

Perhaps this is why we saw so many people flout the advice to stay home and stay safe?

The SECOND main stage is ANGER – Here is the character who portrays the angry emotion from the Disney film “Inside out”. He looks like many people I know!

When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated. Responses might include: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?” and “Who is to blame?”. They vent. There is often conflict.

By the way, “Inside Out” is a brilliant animated film that explains emotions – especially for children – and that there are no good or bad emotions as they all have a role to play. I particularly like how the film explained that emotions are key in how we encode and store memories – the stronger the emotion, the stronger the memory. I remember studying that in my cognitive psychology degree course many decades ago.

I’m using a poker chip for the THIRD stage which is BARGAINING – because it’s a bit like gambling – you are trying to “win” even though you know the odds are against you. But still you try. In a grief situation this might take the “If I could trade my life for theirs” approach. Sometimes, it’s “If I do something different, can I avoid this change?”

Here’s Bert again – he’s featured in previous videos. He is a black dog. Well, mostly black anyway. Because the FOURTH stage is DEPRESSION

Now – there’s a great little book that explains depression – especially for children. It’s called “I had a black dog”. And it is by Matthew Johnstone.

And through wonderful illustrations it uses the metaphor of depression being like carrying around a large black dog with you all the time.

Another great book on depression that I thoroughly recommend is called “Lost connections – Why you’re depressed and how to find hope” by Johann Hari. In the book he talks about the nine causes of depression and what you can do to help yourself and those around you who might be suffering from depression.

For the next stage I use Buddha – although I’m not a Buddhist. The FIFTH stage is ACCEPTANCE. It focuses on the here and now. Buddha’s four noble truths acknowledge that suffering will exist. It advocates acceptance over resignation. The conversation is around “It’s going to be okay.” Individuals accept the change or loss and embrace the inevitable future.

A Kessler modification to the original model suggested that the search for MEANING was important here.

Some add a final stage EXPERIMENTATION (This is my microscope which was a birthday present when I was nine years old). This is where people try out new thoughts and behaviours in the new reality or the changed world.

Of course, people rarely go through these stages as neatly as described. They go through the stages at a different pace – sometimes they repeat some stages and sometimes they become STUCK in a particular stage and find it hard to move on.


So. Shock. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression, Acceptance, Experimentation. The change process – Emotions when reacting to change

My blog of March 25 2020 combines my personal reflections on how I reacted emotionally with the shock of the Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on my work and my family – and my thoughts about embracing the “new” normal Many people said that they recognised the rollercoaster of emotional reactions – up on minute, down the next – stressed and worried on the one hand, excited and energised on the other – that was described.

In future videos I will explore other aspects of psychological reaction to both unplanned and planned change and review some of the management processes and tools that will help you as an individual and as a business with change management.

Thanks for watching

Some of my favourite books on managing change

Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath

The change catalyst – secrets to successful and sustainable business change by Campbell MacPherson

Making sense of change management: A complete guide to the models, tools and techniques of organisational change by Esther Cameron and Mike Green