Explaining the Kubler-Ross Change Curve

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In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the world to her five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. The stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a series of emotional stages that people go through when confronted with something life-changing or tragic. Although it was originally intended to apply to grieving individuals, the Kubler-Ross Change Curve Model has also been found to help understand how people respond to other types of change, such as those that occur in organizations.

The Five Stages of Grief

In her book, Dr. Kübler-Ross identified five distinct phases of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Each phase represents an important stage in the grieving process.

Let's take an industrial scenario. You send a big consignment to your key customer, and the whole consignment gets rejected by the customer because of poor quality. Let's see how the person responsible or the organization will go through these 5 phases.

1. Denial

This is the initial reaction of the individual who received the bad news. They may deny the reality of the situation. This could mean they do not believe the consignment got rejected. Or perhaps they think that the rejection is due to a mistake. Whatever the case may be, the person denies the fact that the consignment did not get accepted.

2. Anger

Once you realize that the client has rejected the consignment, your subsequent reaction will be anger. Some of the thoughts could be:
  • How could our employees be so careless?
  • Why no one in this company cares about doing the work properly?

When someone receives bad news, they feel angry. This is natural. However, if the person remains angry for too long, then there is a possibility that they might suffer from burnout.

3. Bargaining

Bargaining is the next step after denial. It is a way of discovering what can be done about the problem. If you have sent a good consignment but still got rejected, you should try to bargain with the customer. Perhaps you can offer them some discount on future orders.

In this stage, you are trying to find a compromising solution.

4. Depression

The Depression stage is the most challenging phase of grief. When you are depressed, you do not want to talk to anyone. You feel sad and hopeless. Your mood becomes very low. You lose interest in everything around you. You don't care about anything anymore.

Repeated rejection of consignments by clients could lead you into this stage, where you lose hope.

5. Acceptance

Acceptance is the final stage of grief. At this point, you realize that things happen for a reason. You accept the fact that you lost the business deal. You understand that the rejection is just a lesson learned. You learn to move on.


Another Example of using the Kubler-Ross Change Curve

As mentioned earlier, the Kubler-Ross model helps us understand how people react to changes in their lives. Here is another example of how we can use the Kubler-Ross Change Model to our advantage.

Understanding why employees leave

If you notice that one of your employees is leaving, you need to know which stage they are going through. For example, if the employee is in the denial stage, you must give them time to adjust to the new environment.

If the employee is in the bargaining stage, then you need a compromise. You must ensure that the employee understands that their job is safe until they find another position.

If the employee has reached the acceptance stage, you need not worry about them. The employee is ready to move on.


The Kubler-Ross change model is an effective tool for understanding human behaviour. It helps us identify the stages people go through during times of change.

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