change curveI guess most of you are wondering at this odd title. Much of the research and resultant personal development work for dealing with change in business is founded by the work of Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1950s into our reactions to death and dying and, therefore, the services offered in bereavement and hospice care.

In business change, there is much discussion about the stages, particularly for those managing change, major projects, leading businesses whether the change is ultimately seen as positive or negative. This is often because those creating and imposing the change know what they want and why and are prepared for the difficulties, whereas the staff and management have the change “imposed” on them and then have to deal with it. While my focus is usually on the business change, this article concentrates on the personal side.

Personal tragedies and emotions

In essence, when dealing with major tragic events, not just bereavement, we go through a number of emotions including:

  • denial “No” “it can’t be true” or sometimes minimising the impact “it’s not such a big deal, I’ll be fine”
  • anger
  • guilt
  • sadness / depression

Before we get to

  • acceptance and moving forward

There are many books and resources on helping deal with these emotions, often around specific types of events, many expanding the five stages into seven. In my experience, many people dealing with a difficult situation, whether or not they or others see it as a “tragedy”, do not realise they are having normal reactions and emotions and then end up in a personal “loop” of feeling abnormal and unable to cope.

Each person needs to find the best way to deal with this, whether with the help of:

  • experienced, independent counsellors
  • friends or acquaintances who’ve been through similar
  • minister in the local community if appropriate
  • or close friends with time and a good ear

Even the most insular and introverted of people will need to talk about their feelings and those who already tell all their detailed stories to everyone may become even more so, constantly talking about their issue. Those around the normally quieter person will be surprised to know they want to talk and may not readily offer. Those around the chatty person may withdraw, as they don’t know how to cope with this either. And what about the close friends you think will be able to listen and help? In my experience, it frequently turn out to be those you don’t expect to be there are messaging, calling or helping out more and the ones you thought you could rely on, disappear.

Many of us are, ultimately, selfish – we have our own issues to deal with and they ARE important to us. That’s all well and good until someone you know is going through a really difficult time, one of those where your head goes “glad that’s not me” or “I wonder if they’re coping?” and then what do you say?

What can you do?

So, based on my experiences, a few thoughts:

  • say something – if you really don’t know what to say, that might be the best response
  • if you can listen, say so – arrange a time “when would you like to talk/meet?” (not “let me know when you want to talk”)
  • if you start a conversation, especially via some type of messaging, keep the conversation going, or let the person know if you have to break off (like you would if a call or meeting was interrupted)
  • consider whether a call would be better – it’s their need, not yours, which is important
  • visit – sometimes you will need to arrange this, maybe on a rota for some situations, sometimes you can simply call “I’m on the way” or knock on the door as you’re passing.

If they don’t want to speak or see you, they’ll say so or not answer so leave a message, letting them know you’re thinking of them.

And the practical
You know me – ever one for the practical, alongside the emotional. Just a few thoughts of practical things which can help in some circumstances

  • visit and sit in the room, ready to talk / listen / just sit, make tea, tidy up or whatever is needed
  • make a specific offer “I will make you dinner on ….” “I am going to shops tomorrow, what do you need?” “I can pick your children up and bring them home / take them to me for a while after school on x day.”
  • ask them what you can do, maybe suggesting when – “I’m around on xx day, what can I do for you?”
  • keep messaging and calling

What can I do?

I am not a trained counsellor, although I have some experiences which have helped me help others and where I’ve had help from others. I work with business change projects, helping leaders to anticipate the stages their colleagues will go through and how to help this, in the context of the project. Managing these emotions at work, where they’re often least expected, is as important – get in touch if you are involved with a business project. If there’s any kind of change, these issues will be there ….


If you want more information, a good starting point is