What we face today is uncertainty and an unprecedented level of disruption and change to our normal lives. Before we all submit to despair it can be helpful to remind ourselves that we are already very familiar and capable of dealing with change. As humans, we are designed to adapt to new and challenging situations and we can apply that knowledge to help us cope emotionally with the situation that is currently unfolding.
Perhaps you’re already aware of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, otherwise known as or the five stages of grief, developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. By no means is there a suggestion we should all become familiar due to the mortality risks of COVID-19, but rather because of the lessons it can remind us of when coping with the change that the virus has brought to our lives.
The curve represents the emotions we experience during a period of significant change in our lives. Ordinarily, this can be used to train any person on how to cope with change in their lives, be it at work, in our private lives, in our relationships or to our health. It is just as applicable as we come to terms with our new realities.
Reflecting on the COVID-19 situation so far, a clear demonstration of the Kubler-Ross Curve can be seen amongst society such as amongst colleagues, families, communities and friends. These stages are defined as:
1. Shock/denial – If one looks back in time by just one week to when the massive impact of COVID-19 was becoming apparent in other countries, society struggled to believe it was happening, thinking it won’t happen to that level amongst their communities, or that it simply an annoyance and something else that has now got to thought about along with delivering on existing business. Most keep an eye on the news but largely carry on with business as usual.
2. Frustration – As the days pass, the realisation sets in that the situation isn’t going away, and government advice means critical business decisions are starting to have to be taken. Individuals are still trying to find ways of postponing the inevitable, not letting go of their trips to the gym, the hairdressers or that client meeting next week.
3. Bargaining – Compromises are reached for. Drinking at home is substituted for going to the pub, but ultimately over time, this becomes less satisfying.
4. Depression – The shock, denial and frustration move emotions out of the comfort zone. The general mood is low and there is a lack of. Homeworking has started or is starting to sink in. Colleagues are cut off from one another and the public isn’t sure how their finances are going to be affected. On top of this, big decisions still have to be made with little certainty of the future.
5. Experimentation – Figuring out what works in this new normal, whether it’s learning how to juggle video calls with a needy cat, balancing entertaining kids with catching up on emails, or figuring out how to get to work whilst avoiding public transport if you are a key worker or it is essential. The problem isn’t resolved, but short term solutions are being implemented There will be are days where individuals slip back along the curve but that is normal and to be expected.
6. Decision/Integration – In the days and weeks to come, the main feeling is the acceptance that fighting these changes is futile, and in doing so, individuals are able to embrace the new situation and look for new hopes and opportunities for the future.
Knowing the model applies, means now is the perfect time to remember that change management session you did at work last year, and use the tools and techniques you learned to apply to the current situation.
Remember, identifying where people are on the curve gives grounding to understand what to do to move forward and how to relate to other people that might not be at the same stage. This will help to avoid ugly situations such as arguments, especially around social media, and allow individuals to take a calm and measured approach. The goal is to keep moving along the curve, to stop looking back at what might be lost, and start thinking about the future and stands to be gained.
So, what do we as a society do to keep moving forward?
1. Communicate. Whether it is managing a business or working within an employee, ask questions, respond timely and encourage conversation. We’re trying to move forward along the curve and doing so requires information and understanding. This includes communicating feelings. Now is the time to develop emotional intelligence skill and be mindful of other people. We all have concerns in this uncertain time, but no one is alone.
2. Connect with others such as people who are already on the journey that can share their feelings, experiences and suggest ideas to try. Check-in on colleagues, friends, family, and social media (within reason) which can all provide inspiration for things to try.
3. Maintain daily standards and routine (or provide one for home workers if managing a company). Set-up morning video calls to catch-up, lunch-box chats or podcast suggestions. The key is to stay engaged.
4. Find time for the activities that have been put off, whether it be framing the holiday photos from five years ago to reading or trying yoga in the garden! Value the time with family that has now been granted, whether that be physically or virtually.
5. Make plans for the future and where possible, take the first steps towards it. There’s no time like the present to take stock and identify goals for the future. Whether that be engaging in some career development such as taking an online course or start listening to those e-books. It could also be time to think strategically about business strategies in more depth.
It is important to remember that the curve is not a one-way journey, so don’t be surprised to slip back. As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, the coming days, weeks and months are going to continue to be a period of shock, depression, experimentation and acceptance for us all.
So, stay safe, stay home, stay connected and keep sharing this journey with others. Like all changes in life, we will soon be looking back with acceptance, with new skills, a better understanding of ourselves and renewed respect for others.