Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Stages of Grief

How would you cope if you were told you were going to die?

Understanding the Kubler-Ross stages of grief and the stages of dying can help us answer this!

Understanding the 5 stages of grief by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is particularly important for leaders and managers, managing change in the workplace. Because with regards the outcomes of the change management process, when the outcomes are unavoidable and terrible, people managing personal change may be going through these 5 stages of grief.

As leaders within the change management process, we are aware that sometimes some people have to face circumstances that are terrible for them and there is no way around it. We should understand that for them it may feel and be experienced very similarly to the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 5 stages of grief and stages of dying process.

How can Kubler-Ross help us?

How can this help us? We know everybody has their own way of dealing with grief. But for ourselves as leaders, change consultants and change management specialist etc, by understanding the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief and the details of each of the grief stages, it can help us to be better and what we do.

It helps us to understand, to be aware of and to accept these stages of grief and to offer support and kindness towards the individuals affected.

One thing is for sure, this is a complicated grief, and this understanding helps us to be more sensitive towards the emotional stages of grief. It help us be generally better at implementing organizational change because we can emphasize with how some people may be feeling and the stages of grief and types of grief they may be experiencing.

And last but not least, understanding the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross helps us develop more appropriate strategies for managing change in the workplace for the people and for the businesses.

Important Note on Sensitivity

For some people receiving news of an unavoidable change affecting them such as cessation of employment, a change of leadership or supervisor, a separation from favored colleagues, perceived negative individual outcomes from a merger or acquisition, the end of long project, relocation etc, can feel terrible.

In these circumstances some people may experience feelings that are similar to the types of grief people who are unfortunately experiencing the stages of dying may feel.

As a change management consultant I understand that unfortunately as part of an organizational change process that some people may be forced to deal with circumstances like these, and may experience such types of grief.

This topic is presented by me with no intention of insensitivity. All my discussion on this page is presented within the context of my experience as I know it. I offer all my sincere apologies in advance for any readers who may feel sensitive within this discussion.

Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief

The Elisabeth Kubler-Ross five stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Each of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief has particular behaviors attributed to them. If we notice these behaviors, then we should be aware they maybe the individual is experiencing some grief.

In brief, the stages of grief, what a person may be thinking, and the types of behaviors that may be noticed at each stage include:

  • Denial. Displaying fewer emotions and generally being quite. It is possible they are thinking 'this is not happening to me'!

  • Anger. Generally becoming more physically involved, higher louder emotional states are displayed, they may be argumentative and possibly blaming others. They may be wondering 'why is this happening to me?'

  • Bargaining. At this stage emotions remain high. They may be demonstrating more involvement in the situation, questioning the situation and searching for a different outcome, looking for a way out it. They may propose 'I promise I'll ...such and such... if otherwise...'

  • Depression. Displaying signs they do not care, being reclusive, and pushing away others not in the same situation. They may be thinking 'why bother, bugger it, what's the point, who cares anyway'.

  • Acceptance. They have come to peace with the outcome. Displaying new attitude and hopefulness for what remains. They are prepared and ready to face the inevitable outcome.

Importantly, depending on the individual and their support network going through these stages can be a short or lengthy process. Further, not everyone will go through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief or experience them in this order or even experience any types of grief at all.

Kubler-Ross Applied in Change Management

An example of the importance of keeping in mind the Kubler-Ross process when we are developing strategies for managing change, is when new beliefs and practices will be required be employees.

When implementation of changes in the workforce requires that individuals must stop with their familiar ways of thinking and going about their work and must adopt new beliefs they attach to their work processes and practices.

As leaders we have to ask ourselves how might staff react to a notification that has this outcome, particularly if they perceive it as affecting them negatively, and how can we manage through this.

The learnings from Kubler Ross also reminds that when managing change management, as change agents we should try to appreciate that for individuals experiencing organizational change and making sense of change management, it requires them managing personal change for themselves. And just this aspect of managing personal for themselves may be very challenging for some people.

Relevance to What is Change Management

On the page 'what is change management', I have explained the three components of change management to about people, structure and strategy. The Kubler-Ross process is a part of the people component.

I mention at that page the people aspect of change management includes human nature and involves some positive and some negative behavior, and some old habits, some resistance and some champions.

We are reminded further from this work by Kubler Ross, that when people are experiencing grief during a change management process in the workplace that they will likely display some of these types of behaviors, and that this is human nature.

At the 'what is change management' page I also mention reality. The importance being for us leaders in change management initiatives in understanding what is the purposeful and factual and what is individual.

My general view on handling Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief Concern?

In brief, I believe, for example that when doctors deliver bad news they are straight forward and clear and stick to the facts. And managers should be like this too.

This is my belief because I feel providing factual information that is important to individuals will help them move through the stages of grief and on to acceptance, or in a workplace setting perhaps commit, faster and more easily.

I feel avoiding being upfront in regards the reality for the individual and the business, is in the end detrimental for the individuals well-being, and wastes time and money and process for the business.

In a rapidly changing, but professional business environment, companies and leaders cannot re-sort to not communicating effectively by avoiding being up front about the facts and the reasoning behind it.

What is necessary for me to mention here is that I believe leaders and communicators of change management processes, in regards the Kubler Ross stages of grief, need to recognize each of the stages in order to implement the appropriate interventions and for effective communication.

For example, when people are in the anger stage, they won't be very susceptible for communication that tries to sell them the benefits of the change. Respecting people's emotions at this stage and employing techniques for effective communication in this situation would be better. As apposed to communicating what would appear at this stage to them to be an irrational and inflexible change management plan.

Who is Elisabeth Kubler-Ross?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first published her stages of grief theory in her 1969 book, 'On Death and Dying'. The theory explains the process that people may go through from initially learning they are going to die, to accepting their new reality.


The Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief process reminds us that yes, the change management process is broad and can be fun, but can also involve terrible experiences for some people.

For many people experiencing the change management process additionally requires them managing personal change.

If the change outcome is terrible for the individual and unavoidable, the process one goes through may be similar to the stages of dying process described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

It reminds us that as we move through the change management process that the needs and involvement of the different people in the process will vary.

Personally as a change management consultant, and as a professional working with businesses to help them achieve their best possible results, I like and appreciate the value that understanding the Kubler-Ross stages of grief process provides to businesses and leaders.

One reason I like the value of the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross work in change management is in regards operational and strategic outcomes. That is whilst the financial and operational performance of the business is invaluable for the survival of the firm, understanding the Kubler-Ross 5 stages of grief provides us some human considerations for the business which are also invaluable.

Both for decision makers and staff, in a sense understanding the work of Kubler-Ross helps guide us to focus some what more on the individuals, to bring the human aspect into the business towards achieving our best financial and operational performance.

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