managing change the kubler-ross way

Change is tough for most of us. There are some people who have taught themselves to embrace it, to chase it and to look forward to it but for the vast majority change is uncomfortable. It’s simply the way our brains have evolved – familiar situations are safer, we already know the risk level and manage for that. Familiar habits and tasks are a lot easier, our neural pathways have already been established, we don’t have to make as much effort to achieve what we’re doing when we’ve been doing it a while. So change is tough. And when the entire world suddenly changes and everybody in it, and businesses, and schools and everything that was once familiar becomes very different, it’s no wonder you might be feeling completely off kilter.

In the 1960s, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did a lot of work around change and how humans experience big life changes. The Kubler-Ross curve became a widely used businesses tool for change management. The curve can also be helpful for individuals going through change. It doesn’t take the change away of course but what it does do is help to identify the feelings you might be having and help to see the way toward coming out the other side. Being able to look objectively at your feelings and emotions is a great skill that allows you to notice what’s going on, identify it and then make choices about how you react and what you do about it. It’s not always easy but it is always worth it.

There are 7 stages in the Kubler-Ross curve (sometimes more, sometimes fewer and sometimes the names of the stages are a bit different but you’ll get the general idea!).

1. Shock: the initial reaction in stages 1 and 2 is a knee jerk. In the case of Covid-19 I think there was a level of shock at the speed things developed from a problem in a place in China that many had never heard of to suddenly not being able to buy toilet paper or pasta.

2. Denial: for a good while it was still a foreign problem, not something for us to worry about right? There are a lot of people who haven’t gotten past this stage and have come up with lots of conspiracy theories about why Covid-19 never existed in the first place

3. Anger / Blame / Frustration: there was plenty of this, some of it was justified after all, some of it was just scapegoating. Anybody who’s tried to work from home while trying to home school knows just how frustrating the situation can be

4. Acceptance: at some point, we accept the situation, we accept the new normal, we make our peace one way or the other. It doesn’t mean we are ‘over it’ it simply means we have stopped the knee jerk reactions, we are able to start thinking in a more calm and rational way

5. Problem Solving: at this stage, now we have accepted the situation we are able to ‘make the best of it’ we are able to start looking for ways of getting through it. This is the point where we are on an upward slope. Problem solving like setting up online deliveries, managing a timetable that helps to alleviate work and home school pressures, finding ways to do our daily exercise and so on

6. Decision Making: having tried out some strategies, we’re able to function in a more productive way. We’ve made some decisions about how to work around the new situation, how we want our days / weeks to look and we’re getting on with it

7. Integration: this is when the ‘change’ element is over. We have integrated in to the new normal. This is the phase where we are no longer in change, we are in habit. It’s likely that there will be adjustments as the months go by, more people will go back to work, schools will start back again and for each of those things we might experience another little (or big) version of the curve

There are some really key things to know about the curve… the first is that people move through the curve at different speeds. Your friends and family may be at very different stages to you and that can sometimes cause problems, frustrations and arguments. If you’re living with someone who is still in denial when you’re in the acceptance phase, that’s going to be a challenge. The second is, how fast people move through the curve is related to how deeply affected they are – for example if a close family member has died, this curve is going to feel very different.

How fast you move through the curve is also dependent on how resilient you are and how much control you have over the situation. People tend to get to the problem solving stages much faster when they feel more in control. Control doesn’t have to mean they’re in charge, it can mean that they feel they have the right information to be able to make decisions.

The other great thing is… the faster you get to the problem solving stage, the more control you have. If you’re able to experiment with things that will help make your day to day life better and more manageable, you’ve already identified what you CAN control and you’re doing it.