Change is an inevitable part and truth of life, and there is no running away from it. 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.

This article shall throw light on the Kubler-Ross Change Curve (or also Kubler-Ross Model) that is the most reliable tool to understand change and the stages associated with it. The Kubler-Ross Change Curve can be effectively used by business leaders across the world to help their workforce adapt to change and move towards success.

Understanding the Kubler-Ross change curve - Kübler-Ross ModelIn this article, we explore 1) what is Kubler-Ross Model, 2) the applications of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, and 3) variations of change curve concepts.


The Kubler-Ross Change Curve which is also known as the 5 stages of grief is a model consisting of the various levels or stages of emotions which are experienced by a person who is soon going to approach death or is a survivor of an intimate death. The 5 stages included in this model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model was introduced by and is named after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in a book called ‘Death and Dying’ which came out in the year 1969. This book, as well as the model, was inspired by her association and work with patients who were terminally ill. The psychiatrist Kubler-Ross got inclined towards this subject because of lack of research and information on the subject of death and experience of dying. She began her research by analyzing and evaluating those who were faced with death, but the examination took the form of a series of seminars and then patient interviews, etc. later on.

After the book ‘Death and Dying’ was published, the concept or the model was widely accepted, and it was found that it was valid in a majority of cases and situations relating to change. This model and her research also improved the overall understanding as well as the procedures followed in medical care. The 5 stages, according to her are transferable to different ways and degrees and may vary from person to person. Besides those who are faced by intimate death, this model also holds true in the case of others who may be faced by less serious physical conditions or trauma. Some of these situations or cases include injury, disability, work issues, relationship problems and financial problems, etc.

Relevance of Kubler-Ross Change Curve in Business

The Kubler-Ross Model also holds true when it comes to business, work or employment. Every organization needs to bring about changes in its management and policies. But besides the improvement of systems, there must be a change in the people or employees as well. If even in bringing about several changes in the systems and processes, the employees of your company persist in their old ways, and then the thousands of dollars invested will go to waste. This is why it is important for the employees too to adapt and change accordingly. Only when the workforce of an organization makes personal changes, or transitions can the company move ahead and reap the benefits.

Every organization needs to support the employees in the process of making transitions or changes. These individual transformations can be traumatic and may involve a lot of power loss and prestige issues. The easier it is for the employees to move along on their journey, the easier will it be for the organization to move towards success. Thus, this impacts the success rate and overall profits experienced by the company. The Change Curve in business is thus a powerful model that can help one understand and deal with changes and personal transitions. It helps to fathom how one will react to change and how to provide support during the process of change.

The 5 stages of grief

It is essential to understand that we do not move along the stages in a linear direction or step by step. A person tends to move into stages in a random order and may sometimes even return back to a previous stage after a certain point in time. Each stage can last for a different time period, and it is possible for a person to get stuck in a particular stage and not move on from there. The following are brief descriptions of each of the 5 stages of grief:

  1. Denial: The Stage of shock or denial is usually the first stage in the Kubler-Ross Model and is mostly short-lived. This is a phase during which one puts on a temporary defense mechanism and takes time to process certain disturbing news or reality. One may not want to believe what is happening and that it is happening to him/her. It can bring about a dip in productivity and the ability to think and act. After the initial shock subsides, one may experience denial and may remain focused on the past. Some people tend to remain in the state of denial for a long time and may lose touch with reality.
  2. Anger: When the realization finally hits, and one understands the gravity of the situation, he/she may become angry and may look for someone to blame. Anger can be manifested or expressed in many ways. While some take out the anger on themselves, others may direct it towards others around them. While some may be angry at life in general, others may blame the economy. One always tends to remain irritable, frustrated and short tempered during this stage.
  3. Bargaining: When the stage of anger passes away, one may start thinking about ways to postpone the inevitable and try to find out the best thing left in the situation. Those who are not faced by death but by another trauma may try to negotiate in the situation and come to a point of compromise. Bargaining may help to 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 on during this stage.
  4. Depression: Depression is a stage in which the person tends to feel sadness, fear, regret, guilt and other negative emotions. He/she may have completely given up by now and may now reach a dead end from where the road only seems dark. One may display signs or indifference, reclusiveness, pushing others away and zero excitement towards anything in life. This may seem like a lowest point in life with no way ahead. Some common signs of depression include sadness, low energy, feeling demotivated, losing trust in god, etc.
  5. Acceptance: When people realize that fighting the change that is coming into their life is not going to make the grief go away, they resign to the situation and accept it completely. The resigned attitude may not be a happy space but is one in which the person may stop resisting change and move ahead with it.

While some people totally resign and go into a deep state of low energy, others may try to make the most of the time left on their hand and explore new opportunities. One has come to a point of peace and is prepared to take one whatever has to follow next.


To see the application of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, we provide two examples below.

1) The Business World application

The Change Curve is a very trusted and reliable tool that can be used to understand the stage where people are when they are going through a major or significant change in life. This insight not only helps doctors and healers understand the transition of patients but also helps managers in understanding the position at which employees are as far as adapting to change is concerned. This can thus help managers in creating tailor made methods of communication and guidance for those on the path of change.

Let’s understand stand this by dividing it into the various changes or phases of the Kubler-Ross Model:

At Stage 1 – This is the stage at which the employees or employee may be in a position of shock or denial. He or she may not be able to digest the fact that he/she has to undergo change and adapt to something new. They may need time to adjust to the changes and for a long time, they may deny that they need any. Here, as a manager or employer, the role should be to help employees understand why this is happening and how it can be helpful. This stage demands communication so that employees can have full knowledge and can have their questions answered. Employers must make it a point to avoid overwhelming the employees with a lot of information in one go and give it slowly and gradually.

At stage 2 – When finally the gravity of the situation settles in, and reality becomes clear, employees or workers may begin to feel fear from what lies ahead, and this may also turn into anger and resentment. They have been in a comfort zone for so long and knowing that they need to learn, change and adapt may make them angry. This stage has to be managed very sensibly by managements and organizations because some employees tend to vent their anger a little too harshly. This could create chaos and to avoid it, careful planning must be done in advance. Clear communication and support should still be the focus for organizations at this level as well. Organizations must understand that this is just a natural reaction and with time, it shall pass away and make way for acceptance.

At stage 3 – When employees finally understand the change and realize how they must adapt to new situations and circumstances, they may try to find the best possible scenario for them to fit in and adapt to. They may try to bargain with the management so that not a lot is compromised. They may try to learn only what they think is important but as an employer or part of management, your role should be to ensure that everyone gets the best of training so that the change incorporated can run successfully. The training stage may take time and for employees, figuring out their best options for a comfortable tenure ahead will be the focus. A company cannot rush employees to learn quickly or adapt to changes fast. It cannot expect 100% productivity during this phase.

At Stage 4 – Learning phase may not always be a very happy and comfortable zone for most employees of a workplace. This phase could result in low energies at the workplace due to low morale and excitement. It is important for the management to understand that this phase is not easy for the workforce as well. Hence, the more exciting the training can be made, the better would it be for the employees to move ahead and give their best. Employees may have realized by now that there is no way out of the situation, and this may prove difficult for some of them to handle.

At Stage 5 – This is the stage that managers or workplaces wait for after introducing a new change into an enterprise. People finally begin to embrace the change, accept the situation and start building new hopes and aspirations. They realize and understand the importance of the change and resign towards it. While some may resign because of lack of any other option, others may resign to the reality in a positive way. The managers of the workplace will finally begin to see the benefits of the hard work put in by them so far. The team is showing improvements now, and the overall productivity begins to improve. The road may have been rocky, but it is now time to celebrate, move towards a brighter future and expect more profits around the corner.

2) Dead Car Battery example

One of the best examples of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve is the Dead Car Battery example. The following given example clearly demonstrates the transition process from one stage to another.

It’s a chilly winter morning, and it is dark outdoors. There is a thin layer of frost on the ground but you are late for work and hence have to rush out to the car parked outside. As you place the key in the ignition and turn the car on, you realize that the battery is dead. What follows is a clear demonstration of the Kubler-Ross transition stages:

  1. Shock and denial – Your first reaction is of absolute shock and denial. You cannot believe this happening to you when you are already running late, and you thus try to start the car again and again.
  2. Anger – Now that you realize the car cannot be started, you begin to feel angry and very mad at the situation.
  3. Bargaining – Even on knowing it won’t help, you start asking the car to start, just for once. You promise it in your mind that you will keep it maintained and get the battery charged as soon as possible.
  4. Depression – All the negative thoughts start rushing to your mind. You begin to feel depressed, sad and hopeless. You fear your job will be taken away and see now way out of the situation.
  5. Acceptance – Now you figure out what you should do next. You can a cab and decide to deal with the situation later on.


Besides the above given 5 stages of grief or the Kubler-Ross Method, there are some other variations of change management models available too. They are given as follows:

The ADKAR Model

This Model was created for individual change management by Prosci. This variation or model demonstrates the 5 ingredients needed for change to be possible and successfully implemented. These 5 ingredients are given as follows:

  • Awareness – Awareness is a very important building block that helps one understand why change is important and needed.
  • Desire – The desire to be a part of change and support it is another vital ingredient.
  • Knowledge – The desire is incomplete without knowing how change can be brought about.
  • Ability – Even on having the desire to change and the knowledge to bring about this change, things can go in vain if the individual does not have the ability to grow with it.
  • Reinforcement – This building block is important to sustain the change.

John Kotter 8-step strategy for change management

John Kotter also suggested a strategy for change management and this strategy consists of an 8-step process or procedure to deal with change:

  1. Create: The first step is to establish a feeling of urgency or hurriedness towards change.
  2. Build: The second step is to formulate a guiding coalition.
  3. Form: Now, the next step towards change involves developing a strategy to bring about change. This requires having a plan and a vision.
  4. Enlist: One must now communicate or put forth the vision or strategy for change.
  5. Enable: One must now empower the employees for taking action to incorporate the changes.
  6. Generate: Formulating and generating short-term goals and achieving them is the next step.
  7. Sustain: Capitalization of wins or gains in order to produce bigger results is the 7th step.
  8. Institute: Incorporating new and better changes in the workplace culture is the last step.

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