The emotional journey of change


Adrian Cropley

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Adrian Cropley

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Last time I talked about keeping change simple, and promised to explore the emotional journey in my next post. After four months and some exciting changes here is the next instalment.

Communication professionals simply need to support the organisation to support the emotional needs of individuals during the journey. Easier said than done given we are probably the most under resourced function with the biggest scope within our organisations.

A number of years ago I adapted the Change Curve to form up the Reaction-Over-Time Model. The Change Curve itself  is widely used in explaining the journey of change. There are many variations and adaptations often attributed to psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, resulting from her work on personal transition in grief and bereavement. The Reaction-Over Time Model looks at the change curve from an individual point of view over the time it takes to move through change, suggesting what we need to do at various stages of the journey. Our focus is to shorten the time it takes to move through change.

The Reaction-Over-Time model shows the reaction that people have over a period of time through any change and can be applied to large or small changes, work or personal.

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It starts with the initial shock where the reaction is one of ‘I just don’t know what to think just yet’. Quite often people are in denial, trying to ignore the change and hope it goes away, or simply don’t have the capacity to process. Anger is sometimes seen very early in the change journey.

Often people quickly move into reaction and we see more of the active change resistance behaviours including blocking change, finding reasons why it won’t work and recruiting others for support.

 On some level people eventually move into acceptance, realising that the change is not going to go away or information has led them to understand that is not as bad as they first thought.

Then we see action. People then actively explore the change, understand what is in it for them and the possibilities.

Commitment follows when these possibilities and the belief that actively supporting the change will be personally beneficial.

All affected people go through this process at different paces and with different depths of reaction. People can move back and forth, so once acceptance is reached it does not mean individuals will not step back before going forward. This is why you often hear that managing change is like herding cats; literally the one constant in change is that people change. They change however, because of the information they have or do not have and how they process that information. 

The role of communication professionals 

Start by understanding what you are trying to achieve. We are not trying to stop the emotional journey or shortcut the process. It is essential that people move through the change curve. Moving directly from the announcement of change to commitment, means a loss of knowledge and understanding, and has the makings of a loose cannon. 

Communication professionals can significantly shorten the journey for the individual and organisation by advising and supporting on the right approach.

Let’s look at the Individual needs over time during change:


  • Need to be heard
  • Need to vent
  • Need to grieve


  • Need to see the bigger picture
  • Need to understand
  • Need security


  • Need affirmation
  • Need more detail
  • Need reassurance


  • Need involvement
  • Need to be able to explore
  • Need to work with others and design


  • Need acknowledgement
  • Need recognition

Here is a suggested approach to address those needs along the journey

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Communication professionals play a major role in the information process, and in working with line managers to ensure that the basic support and listening mechanisms are in place. During change the role of the manager is essential, but who supports them? Our role is critical in providing the information, the channels and the competence development for the line managers.

Understanding basic communication needs and supporting organisations by keeping it simple and responding to these basic needs will deliver meaningful and measurable business results.

If you have questions, please reach out or even share your experiences. For more, join me or one of the team on our Taking Charge of Change course.  

Adrian Cropley OAM, FRSA, IABC Fellow, SCMP is a Director of the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence. As a global pioneer in internal communication and a past Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Adrian is widely recognised as an expert in strategic communication. With a career spanning over 30 years, he works with clients worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies, on major change communication initiatives, internal communication audits and strategies, professional development programs, executive leadership, and coaching. He is a keynote speaker and workshop leader on strategic and change communication at international conferences around the world earning numerous awards, including international Gold Quill awards for communication excellence. Adrian was awarded the Medal for the Order for Australia in 2017 for his work in the communication profession and his community efforts.