by Matt Minahan

It's funny how things change. Ten years ago, it was only the techno-nerds who knew about and used email. Today, it's hard to imagine getting through a whole day without out check email at least a couple of times. You probably still remember your first few days of email, including the thrill of sending and receiving your first messages. But now, email has probably receded into the background of your life, the same way the telephone or your not-quite-so-new car have. But the moments between anxiety and acceptance, the period called the transition state, are what we want to look at here.

Remember the last time you had to use a new PC. You were probably a bit excited about what it could do, probably hopeful that it could do things better and faster than your old one, and yet, there was likely a bit of anxiety, some klunkiness, a feeling of being incompetent while your fingers searched for the keys or functions that were second nature on your old PC.

Some people use the metaphor of death to help cope with the dilemmas of change and transition. Using Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' Stages of Death and Dying, you can understand this transition, or this moment of anxiety, as being made up of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance, acknowledging that the model isn't linear, and that the stages aren't sequential.

Now, that's a lotta stuff to go through, just to use a new PC! And, the truth is, you probably don't. But think about your own reactions the last time you were informed that you would be affected by a new organizational structure, or change of assignment or location, or the graduation of a child, or, even the death of a loved one. When we start to understand change as having a deeply emotional component, and accept that those emotions are powerful assets in the workplace, then you have to conclude that any change program needs to thoughtfully and carefully attend to the emotional stages of transition of everyone involved, including the leaders, the followers, the HR staff, and the change agents themselves!