Kübler-Ross’ Five Stage Change Curve Model – all you need to know

Going through change? Kinda confused? Wanna streamline the process?

I’ve got just the thing for you.

Change is almost always hard, but there are change models designed by people who have already been through it.

kubler-ross change curve model
Seasoned managers like:

One of these models widely used by organizations worldwide is Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stage Change Curve Model.

Being based on the five stages of grief, this model has great potential to improve your employee buy-in and actually look into what goes on inside the employees’ minds during the change management process.

So now, let’s take a look at:

  • What the Kübler-Ross Change Curve Model is,
  • Some advantages and disadvantages of the Kübler-Ross Model, and
  • What goes on in each stage, which are:
    • The denial stage
    • The anger stage
    • The bargaining stage
    • The depression stage
    • The acceptance stage

So, what is the Kübler-Ross Change Curve Model?

What is the Kübler-Ross Change Curve?

Kübler-Ross’ Five Stage Change Curve Model is a popular method of understanding the process of change and how people respond to it. The model was developed by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who first presented her ideas during a conference in 1969 after working with terminally ill patients for many years.

What happened was that she noticed that all the patients seemed to have gone through a similar five-stage process when faced with death and so put forward her theory about how these patterns of behavior could be applied in other areas.

So today, the stages in her model can be applied to any type of change and their usefulness has been backed up by numerous studies.

These have shown that people typically respond to change in a particular order, although there is no set timeframe for each stage. In addition, the length of time spent at each stage also varies from person to person.

The model is typically applied to organizational change management activities and can be used across a range of different industries for this purpose.  

There are five stages in Kübler-Ross’s Change Curve which form part of people’s natural response to change:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These stages can be applied to any type of change, although they are typically used in organizational development when it comes to large-scale projects involving many people.

The stages are not set in stone and can overlap, with multiple feelings hitting you at once – this is why the model is so useful when it comes to change management because it allows managers to understand how their teams will react.

It also helps them identify any problems early on before they escalate into real issues.

Before we start talking about each stage in detail and how you can use them when managing change in your organization, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the Kübler-Ross Change Model.

kübler ross change model

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Kübler-Ross Change Model

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve is a simple yet effective model that can be used for various types of change.  

It’s popular in the field of organizational development and is considered the best practice approach when it comes to managing change.

Advantages

  • Unbiased – the stages are based on Kübler-Ross’ observations and are not influenced by any specific industry or organization.
  • Objective – since it focuses solely on people’s natural reactions to change, managers can be confident that their teams will respond in a consistent manner.
  • Applicable – the stages can be applied to any type of change, making them very flexible.
  • Easy to use – they are straightforward and easy for managers to understand. They hold value in that people respond in this way when faced with changes, so it is an accurate model. Because it is so widely used, it can also help people within organizations who are not familiar with the change curve to better understand how their colleagues may be feeling.

Disadvantages

  • The model does not take into account that individuals will respond differently – some employees will adapt faster than others, which could cause issues when it comes to planning and time management.
  • The model is based on observations – so there may not be enough scientific evidence for it to be taken as a reliable model by some people, especially those in the medical profession who rely on empirical data when making decisions.
  • It is not clear how the stages are affected by each other – for example, will someone who reacts in anger go on to feel depressed? Some people may not even go through all the stages.

Now that we’ve looked at the advantages and disadvantages of the Kübler-Ross Change Curve, let’s see how you can actually use it when managing change in your organization.

Kübler-Ross Change Curve Model – explained stage-by-stage

The Change Curve model can be applied to any type of change that is taking place within an organization.

This means that this approach could be used in a number of different scenarios such as:

  • A new strategy is being rolled out by the business leadership team;
  • Engaging with external partners on a project;
  • Making changes to the internal processes of employees;
  • Changing how people communicate with one another.

The stages of the change curve can be applied to any type of change, although they are typically used in large-scale projects involving many people. 

They focus on how individuals and teams within organizations react in a natural manner. It is important not to try and force employees into moving through the stages too quickly as this can lead to issues.

Now let’s go over each stage in detail and give you some tips on how to use them within your organization.

Denial Stage – what to do when people are afraid of change?

The first stage that people will go through when faced with a change is denial.

kübler-ross change model denial stage

They may try to ignore it or pretend there’s nothing wrong, all of which could prevent them from wanting to engage in the process of making changes. 

Within organizations, this is most obvious in employees who are trying to put off any action by delaying simple tasks such as not replying to emails or canceling meetings.

If this starts to happen within your organization, it’s important to try to increase employees’ awareness about the change – make them realize what they’re trying to deny and why.

Because denial can be a way of protecting people from making changes in fear of something bad happening, it’s likely that they will develop a negative opinion of the change if you force them to make a move too quickly.

If people are in denial about changes going on within your organization, approach them calmly and with an open mind as this could be their way of coping with what is happening around them.

Anger Stage – how do you deal with resistance and angry employees?

The next stage that people go through after denying a change is anger.

kübler-ross change model anger stage

This is often a natural reaction to the disruption that has occurred in their lives and can be seen as an extension of denial. During this stage, people may lash out at anyone who they feel is involved with the change – managers, coworkers, or even customers/clients.

When managing employees during this stage, it’s important to try and listen to them as this is a natural reaction.

However, make sure that you don’t turn the anger back on them or allow them to continue if they become abusive – remember that these reactions aren’t personal but are related to what has happened in their life.

If people start getting aggressive during this stage, you’ll need to start thinking about how best to manage them.

Bargaining Stage – how to keep employees focused on the change?

The next stage that people will go through when faced with a change is bargaining.

kübler-ross change model bargaining stage

In this stage, employees will try to alter the change plan so that most things remain the same.  

This can be seen as a way for employees to cope with what is happening and can also be due to fear that they won’t know how to deal with the change.

Within organizations, this is mostly seen in employees trying to come up with compromises such as wanting to implement the changes over a longer period of time or suggesting that they be done in stages.

Especially during this stage, make sure that you keep employees focused on the changes by reinforcing why they are taking place, what needs to happen in order to implement them successfully and how it will affect everyone in a positive manner.

This stage is likely to occur early on in a change, so it’s important not to let employees delude themselves into thinking they will be able to keep things as they are – this could lead to an even bigger problem later down the line.

Depression Stage – here’s what you should do when people are losing motivation

The next stage that people go through when faced with a change is depression.

kübler-ross change model depression stage

This is especially true if you work with employees who have been in the organization for a long time and are used to continuing things as they always have. 

This stage begins when people start losing motivation or seem completely uninterested in what’s going on around them.

When managing employees during this stage, the first thing to remember is that these feelings are likely due to depression and not personal dislike for you or your organization – this may be especially true if someone has been with an organization for many years. 

During this time, make sure that you monitor their progress carefully as it may seem like they’re doing less than before (and they probably are).

In addition, you’ll need to be empathetic and supportive during this stage as employees may become depressed because of the changes taking place.

This is a difficult time for people, so make sure that you avoid any negative judgments or reactions towards their feelings – remember that these feelings aren’t about what’s going on externally, rather they’re about what’s going on internally.

What you need to focus on during this stage is to do everything you can to “ease the pain” of your employees, reduce the friction, and show them that the new reality looks a lot better than the old one.

Acceptance Stage – how to make employees embrace the change?

Once people have gone through all these stages, they will eventually reach the final stage which is acceptance.

kübler-ross change model acceptance stage

In this stage, people will be comfortable with the change as they’ve gotten used to it and have accepted that it is now part of their life.

As a result, people will start to focus on the benefits of the new change and how they can make it work within their organization. Employees will also have a better understanding of what needs to be done and how they can contribute.

This is most obvious in employees who show enthusiasm and willingness to contribute to the company’s success.

It’s important not to forget that people will need to go through this stage in order to be able to move on and embrace the change.

So, what should you do during this stage?

During this time, you’ll need to make sure that employees are allowed the space and time to become involved in the changes: provide them with any information that they require, allow them to take part in decision-making, and give them a chance to voice any concerns they may have.

As a manager, during this stage, you’ll need to make sure that employees feel like their opinions are being valued and that their suggestions are being heard.

People work with different mindsets during this stage, so make sure you monitor their progress carefully.

Attitudes are likely to differ during this stage – some people will embrace it, others may reject it.

Above all, remember that this stage is the final one that will allow people to move on and embrace the change.

Conclusion

Kübler-Ross’s Five Stage Change Curve Model is extremely effective in understanding the change process.

By following these five stages, leaders and managers can help employees to cope with change in their organization.

It’s important to remember that change is inevitable. And so is employee buy-in, as long as you know how to use the right change management model to the most of its potential.

Here’s to hope this one will be the right one for you 🙌


Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Kubler-Ross theory?

Developed by the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 60s, the Kübler-Ross model refers to the 5 stages of grief that people go through after losing a loved one. In today’s business world, however, this model is used to understand and cope with employee behavior when buy-in is hard to achieve.


Why is the Kubler-Ross model good to use during the process of strategic change within a company?

Because the Kübler-Ross Model looks into the behaviors and not the actions of employees, it can be a good way of assessing the situation a company is in during a change management process.


What are the 5 stages of change as implied by the Kübler-Ross model?

The five stages of the Kübler-Ross curve model are; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

Ready to make easy User Onboarding, without coding?

Join the group demo; 24.11.2022 / 11:00 AM ET

Register Now!

Join 10,000+ teams creating better experiences

14-Day Free Trial, with an extra 30-Day Money Back Guarantee!

Share this article:

Mert Aktas

Mert is the Marketing Manager of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that helps teams scale user onboarding and boost user engagement.