The Change Curve, or transition curve, helps us to understand the emotions that people may go through when changing


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This page explains the change curve which is one of the change management tools that would be on every change management checklist. It is a change management model that is essential in understanding how to be in control when going through the change management process.

Just before we proceed with the Change Curve:
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What's in it for me to understand the transition curve?
Why should I bother?

The change curve above illustrates typical emotions and reactions when people are going through transition.

Knowing that the emotions involved are temporary and "normal" will prevent you:

* from becoming swamped by them or
* from being stuck in negative emotions or
* from being overcome by fear or
* from becoming a victim.

It will empower you to be proactive and take control so that you can experience the change process positively with a sense of achievement and enhanced self esteem.

Ok, so what is the change curve? Let's go through it stage by stage.

Each specific situation, and each person involved, may vary somewhat from this, of course, depending on the scale of the change they are facing and the stakes involved.

The change curve model above shows how you may react when involved in managing personal change that you may not have created, may not agree with, think you have (and may have) something to lose, and feel that you can’t do anything about it - that is, you are not in control of the change management process.

Typically, as shown on the change curve, the first reactions involve the red negative emotions (on the left hand side of the curve) as you feel to be a victim.

You may initially feel shock and be overwhelmed, depending on the significance and scale of the changes.

This may be followed by denial, a refusal to accept or even recognise that change is happening.

This may be followed by blame, sometimes of others or of self.

All the while, the change is not going away - it keeps on coming, like the tide coming in, you can’t stop it.

This may cause confusion or resistance and sabotage, especially if there is significant uncertainty.

As these emotions unfold, you may (or may not) suffer a deterioration of performance, including your relationships with others or a decline in your self-esteem.

Typically, what then happens is that, as the change is still coming, you may come to accept the fact and let go of your negative emotions.

If so, you will have reached the bottom of the transition curve and will then begin the process of moving up the right hand side of the curve (with the green positive emotions).

You may, for example, begin to explore options in dealing with the change or options that the change itself creates.

This will often be followed by testing out new behaviours in the changed situation, searching for meaning and how to make it work.

As experience with the new situation builds, you may move into problem solving and decision making mode - now contributing to the changes and, maybe, beginning to experience the benefits of change management.

Finally, you integrate and internalise the changes into new habits.

At this point, your behaviour (and performance) is at a higher level than when the change management process began.

In other words, the change curve shows a typical situation where the outcome is success (ie the change has been implemented and you have developed as a result).

Whilst going through the change experience may have been uncomfortable (especially in the first stages), this positive outcome is likely to boost your personal development, self confidence, self help and determination.

How long will it take?

Depending on the significance of the change, it could take hours or days or weeks or months or years or, maybe, you might get stuck somewhere on the curve and never reach integration.

In addition, how people have encountered change is important.

If change is being done TO them, their emotions are likely to run higher and be more negative than if change is being done BY them.

A key learning point is that the very same people who have been proactive in extending their property, investing in the latest hi-fi or high definition home cinema, acquiring the most up-to-date mobile ‘phone or computer, setting up their own website, holidaying in exotic places with very different cultures and food, trading in their car for the latest model every two years etc. - those very same people can, and do, go through the change curve when change is done TO them (rather than BY them).

So, two key points:

1. the change curve above summarises typical reactions when you have change thrust or forced upon you

2. however, when change is owned and initiated by you it is a different kettle of fish (e.g. you will avoid the negative red emotions shown on the change curve and enjoy the green emotions and a great sense of achievement).

Therefore, the best way to manage change is to help create it.

This is undoubtedly the best change management model of all.

How do I use the change curve?

Firstly, use it to understand that negative emotions during change are "normal" and, most of the time, are transient (i.e. they will pass).

This is very helpful in supporting yourself or others during change, especially if you or they are well outside your comfort zone.

Secondly, use it to show empathy and to communicate to people going through change that getting stuck in the negative red emotions on the change curve (or in feeling a victim) will, in the longer run, be self-hurting.

This can help people's motivation to take control and be proactive in moving quickly to the green states shown on the change curve.

Thirdly, use it for feedback and learning by checking periodically where people are on the change curve and how they are moving along it (or not).

This can help people develop or maintain their perspective and, to some extent, de-personalise the process they are going through and thus reduce the intensity of any negative emotions they are feeling.

It will also facilitate the planning of positive actions to accelerate progress to integation of new behaviours and habits.

The Change Curve shows us that whilst there can be no formula for change management, we can achieve self improvement by being proactive to boost our self esteem and control our emotions.
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