For our entire lives, we humans need some form of structure as we are creatures of habit and routine. We thrive in a structured environment and when faced with change, can react in varying ways.

Knowing how people react to change is advantageous both in and outside of the workplace. Being able to read people and to understand their fight or fly processes helps us to better manage the reactions caused by change.

With this knowledge, we are better equipped to allow the time and space needed to go through the processes. Some people will be more resilient than others; no two peoples’ reactions will be the same.

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The Change Curve

The Change Curve comes from a person, or employee, point of view. It highlights the stages of how we manage change.

This methodology is still relevant in todays ‘normal life’ but is especially so during the current changing landscape we face today due to COVID-19.

The Curve is a journey each person will need to go through when dealing with change.

This is irrespective of the type of change in hand. Naturally some may whizz through these stages and deal with change in a matter-of-fact manner. Others will stick at some points and need help moving forward.

Recognising these patterns of behaviour enables managers and employees to manage change effectively. This is done so with the best interests of their team at heart.

More on Change Management and Managing Change here

The Stages of Change

Here we will delve into the predominant stages of the Change Curve. We will also provide some actionable tips you can put into practice.


This stage begins when a change is first introduced and, in some cases, people’s initial reaction may be shock or denial. This manifests by blaming others as they react to the challenge of the status quo.

Common themes are to blame others. ‘Why didn’t X see this coming and prepare’ and ‘why didn’t they do this or that to avoid this situation’ are common themes of conversations when change is announced.

Also, people may have an internal conversation with themselves such as, ‘Why didn’t I see this coming?’ or ‘could I have done something to avoid this?’

‘Was it my fault this happened’ are again themes that are considered at this stage.

This is the brain trying to rationalise the message and seek an immediate way to deflect from the impact the change may bring. This is a stressful time for people, and they may jump between blaming others and themselves during this phase.


Give people access to as much information as you can regards the need for change. Allow them time to digest and give them to have a trusted contact point for them to discuss these issues and concerns. Sometimes simply being able to speak out loud about their issues and concerns allows people to move cautiously to the next phase.


The next phase is where confusion and doubt set it, but this is a good sign as people are beginning to move on. This phase manifests in various ways but people will show signs of doubt and confusion. Questions will move from the why, to detailed questions about the specifics of the change and the impact on themselves.

Questions range from:

  • Will I still be able to do…?
  • What will my job be now?
  • What about the impact on my…?
  • How will I be trained to do…?

They may also be thinking to themselves, ‘Perhaps I should look elsewhere for a job’, or ‘I am not sure of any of this.’


Demonstrate that you are prepared to involve the individual in shaping the solution. Listen to their concerns and provide practical advice to the questions they raise. Sell the positives of the change and how it could benefit the individual.

Acceptance & Rationalisation

At this phase people stop focusing on what they have lost, and start accept the changes.

They begin testing and exploring what the changes mean for them and start to experience what’s actually good and not so good, and how they must adapt.

This stage can take time as the individual adapts to the change and experiences things for the first time and, as a result, people may step back into the doubt phase.


Use the persons experiences and seek their advice on what could be done to make the change easier. This can be from developing the process of work through to how to accommodate the individual’s wider concerns.

The key is to help people move through this phase and to gain their trust and engagement so that they can more quickly adapt to the new norms.

Problem Solving

As with the Acceptance and Realisation phases, people here are taking ownership for the change. They cease to focus on what they have lost and start the processes of moving on and accepting the changes.

At this phase they will continue to probe and test what the impacts of the changes are for them but, more importantly, the emphasis will have shifted to how they will learn to adapt.

This is the phase where focus should be placed on stabilising and formalising the change. For example, will Job Descriptions, Working Processes, Policies and Processes need changing?


Do more of the same from the Acceptance and Realisation phase involving people to come up with practical solutions the change has thrown up.

Moving On

At this stage if the change has been managed people are not only accepting the changes but also start to embrace them and begin to rebuild their ways of working.

Another advantage is that people would have experienced change first-hand and will have learned more about how they, and the company, react to change and will have built resilience making any subsequent change easier to navigate.

To Conclude

Many businesses are facing change in light of COVID-19. Change may be inevitable yet how people cope is variable. Take on board these tips to recognise the Change Curve, learn how people react to change and put people at the centre of processes.

Are you Facing Change in your Business?

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