Change curve and resistance to change: deciphering the situation

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What is the link between the change curve and the company?

The change curve, a founding theory in psychology

The grief curve, also known as the change curve, was described in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book “The Stages of Grief”. This psychiatrist identified the different emotional phases that people go through when faced with the death of a loved one.

Although criticised by some, this theory remains a major reference in psychology. It provides a better understanding of the grieving process that follows a loss.

Corporate change: a form of ‘mourning

Employees can go through similar phases during major changes within their company. Restructuring, a takeover, a merger or even the arrival of a new manager shake up their bearings and habits.

Some refuse to accept the reality of the situation. Others express frustration or sadness. These are natural reactions to the “loss” of something familiar and reassuring.

There are varying degrees of resistance to change. Employees need time to accept the new situation. The challenge is to provide them with the best possible support during this delicate period, which is marked by a change curve.

What are the stages of grief?





In the first phase of change management, the bereaved person refuses to accept the whole picture. The change as a whole is denied, because it seems too painful to accept. The employee will use cognitive denial and filter out information that contradicts their view of the situation. They will minimise the importance of the change, believing that nothing will really change. This is a self-protection mechanism in the face of an unsettling truth. However, this attitude of denial can prove problematic in a company and slow down the implementation of change.


Once denial has been overcome, anger sets in. The employee realises that change is inevitable and this causes frustration and resentment. They will then express their dissatisfaction strongly to their colleagues and management. This can lead to knee-jerk reactions, aggressive comments and even sudden resignations. This is a way of venting the internal tension generated by the forced acceptance of change. What’s more, if not properly channelled, this anger can contaminate the work group.


Afterwards, the person fully realises the impact of the change on their daily life. They become aware of what they are going to lose or what is going to disappear. The employee is then demotivated, with morale at an all-time low. They become pessimistic about the future and lose productivity. Without support, the employee can sink into a long-term depression and become isolated from the team.


Acceptance marks a turning point in the grieving process: the person gradually stops fighting the reality of the change and comes to accept it. They are then more willing to cooperate in its implementation. There is more constructive participation in meetings, mutual support with colleagues, and efforts to learn new ways of working. Employees gradually overcome their initial reluctance.


This is the final stage, the rebuilding stage. The employee goes beyond simply accepting the change: he or she regains confidence in the company and in his or her future within it. They have a positive outlook on future developments and a renewed desire to get involved in future projects.

Although non-linear, these stages provide a useful framework for understanding reactions to change within companies.

How do you manage change while grieving?

To help employees through the stages of grieving and change management, managers and senior management can take a number of steps:

  • Communicate upstream about the reasons for the change in a transparent way. Explaining the need for change and the benefits it will bring for the company will help to get people on board.
  • Organise listening sessions to allow employees to express their fears. This defuses underlying resistance and tensions.
  • Involving them in the design of the change creates a feeling of control. They become players rather than just subjects of change.
  • Offer training to help them acquire the new skills required. This reassures them of their place in the company.
  • Valuing successes, however small, in managing change to restore confidence.

By adopting a position of empathy and listening, managers can greatly reduce negative reactions to change and speed up the transition to the acceptance and serenity stages. In this respect, change management is a real discipline that needs to be mastered.


Of course, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s change curve is the subject of debate as to whether it accurately models the stages of grief. Transposed to the corporate world, this theory must be used with certain precautions. Organisational change has a different dynamic to bereavement.

Nevertheless, this conceptual framework offers useful insights into individual reactions to change. The notions of denial, anger, depression and acceptance provide a better understanding of the resistance observed. As a result, managers now have the benchmarks they need to adapt their support to employees.

Choose Knowmore to support your transformation projects!

At Knowmore, we support companies in their transformation and change management projects. Thanks to our experts in strategy, management and change management, we help our customers to anticipate reactions, overcome resistance and unite teams around a shared vision.

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