Through the valley of tears

Photo by Daniel Ribar
Photo by Daniel Ribar

When you deal with change management, you quickly reach the valley of tears. It describes the development of energy in change processes over time. This can be the separation from the partner, the loss of a close relative or also a reorganization in the company.

The mechanics behind these processes was already described in 1969 by Dr. Kübler-Ross. As a physician, she researched the handling of mourning processes in the clinical field. She gave physicians an important tool for coping with the extreme emotions they faced during their everyday work. Meanwhile, it has also been discovered in industry to manage change processes. The basic process is the same, as it involves the dissolution and reconnection of an emotional bond. In our day-to-day work, for example, we build these bonds, e.g. towards our area of responsibility, our department or our corporate brand.

If a change is communicated to us, the mental process always follows the same pattern:

  1. Shock: First of all, we are surprised by the news and have to digest it first. This is the starting point of the process.
  2. Denial: We can’t believe it and are looking for evidence that all this is not true and that our previous reality will continue to exist.
  3. Frustration: After we have realized that it really is true, we fall into a hole. We get angry. Especially in the mourning over the deceased it seems a bit paradoxical how we reproach the deceased in this moment. But it is a very important part of the overall emotional process.
  4. Depression: We mourn and pull the blanket over our heads. Now we have really accepted the new reality and let go – alone, it doesn’t make us happy. We are at the bottom of the valley of tears.
  5. Experiment: We sneak a peek from under the blanket and see the first opportunities opening up in front of us.
  6. Decision: We give it a try. We decide to engage into the new path and regain courage. The clouds have cleared and we begin to work actively on our new life.
  7. Integration: We pick up enthusiasm and are looking forward to the new path. Here the energy level is higher than at our old default level. We engage.

While the Board is already shaping the new path full of verve, the managers are still trapped in grief and the employees cannot grasp it yet. If you invite a townhall meeting at this point, you can expect quite a few emotions.

Understanding this mechanics helps us to make these emotions manageable in our everyday life. A good leader understands this and can handle it. A really good manager seeks external support for himself and his company.

What about you?

  • Have you ever walked the valley of tears in your private or professional life?
  • Have you noticed these feelings in yourself?
  • Have you ever observed the effect of such a phase shift in your company?
  • Do you seek for external help in these processes?

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