C10.7.3.4 Continued…


Principle 3 – Change often involves a loss, and people go through the “loss curve”

The relevance of the “loss curve” to a change management programme depends on the nature and extent of the loss. If someone is promoted to a more senior position, the ‘loss’ of the former position is rarely an issue because it has been replaced by something better. But if someone is made redundant with little prospect of getting a new job, there are many losses (income, security, working relationships) that can have a devastating effect.

C10.7.3.4 loss curve

There are many variations of the “loss curve”. One is known as “Sarah” – that is, the individual experiences (in this order):

  • S-hock
  • A-nger
  • R-ejection
  • A-cceptance
  • H-ealing


The common factors amongst all “loss curves” are that:

  1. There can be an initial period where the change does not sink in. For example, feelings may be kept high by the individual convincing themselves that the change is not going to happen.
  2. When the loss is realised, the individual hits a deep low. The depth of this ‘low’ is deepened if the loss is sudden/unexpected.
  3. The period of adjustment to the new situation can be very uncomfortable and take a long time. In the case of bereavement, the period of adjustment can be as long as two years.

In order to successfully facilitate change, It is useful to understand the emotions that people go through when confronted with change.

The types of responses are described below:

C10.7.3.4 Emotional Response

  • Equilibrium: this is the ‘ignorance is bliss’, comfortable stage when people are genuinely unaware that there is any problem or change on the horizon.
  • Shock: the first response to very bad news – like being told about a serious accident, getting a diagnosis of terminal illness, or a credible report of ecological disaster. “Oh God!” The hand covers the mouth, there may be physical reactions.
  • Denial: behaving as if it’s not true and it isn’t happening. There may also be indifference “It’s happening but it’s unimportant” and cynicism “They’re only saying that because they want to put up the price / raise funds / get at me”.
  • Anger: anger at the circumstances may also include blame for the guilty. “It’s all their fault.” “It’s all my fault.” There may be a victimised response “Why me? Why is this happening?” There may also be bargaining “if this turns out OK, I’ll never miss church / step on a worm / leave my TV on standby again.”
  • Depression: “It’s all so awful, nothing I can do can make any difference.” “Someone else needs to take responsibility for me and the problem, because I can’t.” If people don’t find a way to feel as if they can make a difference and take some control back, then they can slip back into anger or denial. Slipping back into denial can be so successful that people forget that they once believed it or have even heard about the problem.
  • Resignation: with support and a sense of agency, people can allow themselves to move on to the stage of letting go and experimentation. “I loved having a long hot bath three times a day, but I realise those days are gone. I’m ready to experiment with showers instead.” “This change is happening, and I will accept it. I’ve finished grieving for what’s been lost.” At this point, people may be – legitimately – unhappy at the idea of resigning themselves to what’s been lost, whilst still being ready to go forward and make changes. For example, a person may be willing to accept that the days of unlimited cheap electricity will end, but unwilling to stop grieving for or being angry about the loss of climatic stability that has already occurred. The change that is being accepted is the change in society needed to achieve sustainability, rather than the (negative) changes that have already occurred to the eco-system.
  • Exploration: when people can see the benefits of changing, and the possibilities for doing so successfully, then they begin to explore and to get enthusiastic. “I’m going to explore how the future may be, and how I will be.” “I think I’m going to like this.”
  • Integration: when the changes are fully integrated, people take ownership of the new situation and the new way of doing things. “This is how we do things.” “This is the new me.”

 Source: IEMA “Change Management for Sustainable Development”, 2006.