Go with the flow: Tips on how to deal with imposed change

When you realize that fighting the change is not going to make the grief go away, you resign yourself to the situation

David Rigby
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Your partner comes home to reveal he/she has a (potential) new job in another town or country. Or a key family member is about to die, or you are told you have cancer. How do you feel? Your department has been subject to external studies and you are told that from Monday you would either be doing a new job, or that the way you do your job has changed.

According to Kotter 70 percent of change programs fail. And the fundamental reason for this is the failure to appreciate the emotional impact of change on individuals. The job, which you are skilled for and for which you are in your comfort zone has vanished. So no-one needs to ask your advice or opinion anymore. You have lost respect. How do you feel? How do you get the best results from the change - however good or bad it may be?


Kubler Ross developed the change/transitions curve to show what happens to individuals when they are forced into change. It was originally designed for dealing with death, but has been used in general for appreciating and managing change.

So what happens?

There are five stages of grief to pass through

Denial: This is a phase during which you put on a temporary defense mechanism and take time to process certain disturbing news or reality. After the initial shock subsides, you may experience denial and may remain focused on the past. It can bring about a dip in productivity and the ability to think and act. Here a doctor, partner, or employer should help you understand why this is happening and how it can be helpful. This stage demands communication so you can have full knowledge and can have their questions answered. However, there is the danger being overwhelmed with a lot of information in one go, and so details should be given slowly and gradually, and potentially several times over.

Anger: When the realization finally hits, and you understand the gravity of the situation, you may become angry and may look for someone to blame. You may take out the anger on yourself, or direct it towards others around you. You tend to remain irritable, frustrated and short tempered during this stage.

Bargaining: You try to find ways to avoid or postpone the inevitable, and try to find out the best thing left in the situation. If you are not faced with death, but another trauma, you might try to a compromise. Bargaining may help you come to a sustainable solution, and might bring some relief to those who are moving close to what they wish to avoid altogether. The search for a different outcome - or a less traumatic one - may remain during this stage. Your ‘sphere of influence’ analysis may eventually tell you nothing can be done.

Depression: Depression is the stage where you tend to feel sadness, fear, regret, guilt and other negative emotions. You have completely given up by now and have reached the dead-end from where the road only seems dark. You will display signs of indifference, reclusiveness, pushing others away and zero excitement towards anything in life. This may seem like the lowest point in life, with no way ahead. Some common signs of depression include sadness, low energy, feeling demotivated, losing trust in god, etc…

Acceptance: When you realize that fighting the change is not going to make the grief go away, you resign yourself to the situation, accepting it completely. The resigned attitude may not be a happy space, but it is one in which you stop resisting change and move ahead. Perhaps some of these changes might be worth at least thinking about. Perhaps things aren’t as bad as you imagined, and there are new opportunities and a better way of working? And now you are ready for the new life.

No amount of pressure will prevent you - and others - going through those phases. It’s better to accept and support each other.

Change is an inevitable part of life, and there is no running away from it. A good conclusion is better than a bad one, and like serious illness – it’s better if its faced up to. If change is well planned and formulated, it can produce positive results, but even in spite of planning, change is hard to incorporate, accept and appreciate. And the best results are obtained by recognizing these steps and supporting others by active listening and communication.

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