The Process of Transition


Here’s some information about how, as individuals we move through a change process! This process puts the “I” into change. most change models operate at an organisational level and almost always ignore the individual apart from as a cog in a bigger process. This model reverses that trend and puts the person firmly at the heart of any change.

This model first, formally, saw the light of day in: Fisher J M, 2000, Creating the Future?, in Scheer J W (ed), The Person in Society: Challenges to a Constructivist Theory, Geissen, Psychosozial-Verlag, ISBN 3898060152 and was in a paper I gave at the 1999 International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology held in Berlin (a lovely place).

Transition Curve Illustration
The awareness that events lie outside one’s range of understanding or control. I believe the problem here is that individuals are unable to adequately picture the future. They do not have enough information to allow them to anticipate behaving in a different way within the new organisation. They are unsure how to adequately construe acting in the new work and social situations.
The awareness that ones viewpoint is recognised and shared by others. The impact of this is twofold. At the basic level there is a feeling of relief that something is going to change and not continue as before. Whether the past is perceived positively or negatively, there is still a feeling of anticipation and possibly excitement at the possibility of improvement.

On another level, there is the satisfaction of knowing that some of your thoughts about the old system were correct (generally no matter how well we like the status quo there is something that is unsatisfactory about it) and that something is going to be done about. In the phase we generally expect the best and anticipate a bright future, placing our own construct system onto the change and seeing ourselves succeeding. One of the dangers in this phase is that of the inappropriate psychological contract. We may perceive more to the change, or believe we will get more from the change than is actually the case.

The organisation needs to manage this phase and ensure unrealistic expectations are managed and redefined in the organisations terms without alienating the individual.

The awareness of an imminent incidental change in one’s core behavioural system. People will need to act in a different manner and this will have an impact on both their self-perception and on how others externally see them. However, in the main, they see little change in their normal interactions and believe they will be operating in much the same way, merely choosing a more appropriate, but new, action.
The awareness of an imminent comprehensive change in one’s core behavioural structures. Here clients perceive a major lifestyle change, one that will radically alter their future choices and other people’s perception of them. They are unsure as to how they will be able to act/react in what is, potentially, a totally new and alien environment – one where the “old rules” no longer apply and there are no “new” ones established as yet.
Awareness of dislodgement of self from one’s core self perception. Once the individual begins exploring their self-perception, how they acted/reacted in the past and looking at alternative interpretations they begin to re-define their sense of self. This, generally, involves identifying what are their core beliefs and how closely they have been to meeting them. Recognition of the inappropriateness of their previous actions and the implications for them as people can cause guilt as they realise the impact of their behaviour.

This phase is characterised by a general lack of motivation and confusion. Individuals are uncertain as to what the future holds and how they can fit into the future “world”. Their representations are inappropriate and the resultant undermining of their core sense of self leaves them adrift with no sense of identity and no clear vision of how to operate.

I have started referring to this now as “confusion” to make the distinction between this stage and clinical depression which I am not qualified to talk about.

In this phase the individual is starting to make sense of the new environment and beginning to alter their construct system to take on board the new situation and their experience of it. They are actively experimenting with new ways of interacting (“trying on for size”) with the world and deciding on how to make the most of the situation.
Here the most effective responses and ways of working have been identified and the individual is comfortable with the new environment (and may not even remember exactly how things used to be!). They have devised a new construct system, created a new, comfortable sense of self and are “happy” in their world.

There are some “off-shoots” or junctions where individuals can divert off the Transition curve. These have varying degrees of success in the short/long term and really only one has a positive outcome for the individual.

The awareness that your values, beliefs and goals are incompatible with those of the organisation. In an organisation, this is where the person believes that the change required is against their best interests and/or contravenes their personal value system and that the psychological contract has been broken. Their best, and potentially, only response is to leave the organisation.

The pitfalls associated with this phase are that the employee becomes unmotivated, unfocused and increasingly dissatisfied and gradually withdraws their labour, either mentally (by just “going through the motions”, doing the bare minimum, actively undermining the change by criticising/complaining) or physically by resigning from the organisation undergoing change.

Continued effort to validate social predictions that have already proved to be a failure. The problem here is that individual’s continue to operate processes that have repeatedly failed to achieve a successful outcome and are no longer part of the new process or are surplus to the new way of working. The new processes are ignored at best and actively undermined at worst.
This stage is defined by a lack of acceptance of any change and denies that there will be any impact on the individual. People keep acting as if the change has not happened, using old practices and processes and ignoring evidence or information contrary to their belief systems.
I have come to recognise over time that there seems to be some anger associated with moving through the transition curve, especially in the earlier stages as we start to recognise the wider implications of change. This is not always present as it seems to be depending on the amount of control people feel they have over the overall process and the focus of the anger changes over time.

In the first instance, for those where change is “forced” on them, the anger appears to be directed outward at other people. They are “blamed” for the situation and for causing stress to the individual etc.

However, as time progresses and the implications grow greater for the individual the anger moves inwards and there is a danger that this drives us into the “Guilt” and “Depression” stages. We become angry at ourselves for not knowing better and/or allowing the situation to escalate outside our control.

It has also been suggested that there is also actually a final (initial stage?) of Complacency (King 2007). Here people have survived the change, rationalised the events, incorporated them into their new construct system and got used to the new reality.

This is where we feel that we have, once again, moved into our “comfort zone” and that we will not encounter any event that is either outside our construct system (or world view) or that we can’t incorporate into it with ease. We know the right decisions and can predict future events with a high degree of certainty.

They are subsequently laid back, not really interested in what’s going on around them and coasting through the job almost oblivious to what is actually happening around them. They are, again, operating well within their comfort zone and in some respects can’t see what all the fuss has been about. Even though the process may have been quite traumatic for them at the time!


Progressing through the Transition Curve

It can be seen from the transition curve that it is important for an individual to understand the impact that the change will have on their own personal construct systems; and for them to be able to work through the implications for their self perception. Any change, no matter how small, has the potential to impact on an individual and may generate conflict between existing values and beliefs and anticipated altered ones.

One danger for the individual, team and organisation occurs when an individual persists in operating a set of practices that have been consistently shown to fail (or result in an undesirable consequence) in the past and that do not help extend and elaborate their world-view. Another danger area is that of denial where people maintain operating as they always have denying that there is any change at all. Both of these can have detrimental impact on an organisation trying to change the culture and focus of its people.

To help people move through the transition effectively we need to understand their perception of the past, present and future. What is their past experience of change and how has it impacted on them?, how did they cope? Also what will they be losing as part of the change and what will they be gaining?

Process of Transition:
Swedish Language Version
Spanish Language Version
German Language Version

This content is Copyrighted. However if you wish to use them for your own private (i.e. non commercial) use then feel free to do so. However if you are using them as part of a package that is being sold (either as a training course, within a behavioural change programme, etc.) then please contact John Fisher for permission.


Part of the problem is that we do not recognise which element of the curve we may be in. The goal of the ‘manager’/change agent is to help make the transition as effective and painless as possible. By providing education, information, support, etc. we can help people transition through the curve and emerge on the other side. One of the dangers is that once we are caught up in the emotion of the change we may miss the signs of threat, anxiety, etc. and ‘react’/cope by complaining or attempting to make things as they were (and also increase our stress levels as a result).

I would argue that we transit through all stages (although the old caveat of some of these stages may be extremely quickly traversed and not consciously recognisable applies). In the main the theory proposed a linear transition and each stage builds on the last so we can see our perception escalating in ‘severity’/importance as we go into the trough of depression via a small impact on our sense of self (anxiety) through a greater realisation of impact/meaning (fear, threat) and then an understanding that (potentially) our core sense of self has been impacted and our ‘self belief system’ undermined to an extent (guilt, depression). Now if someone is going through multiple transitions at the same time these could have a cumulative impact and people could go through the initial stages almost simultaneously – it then becomes a case of more ‘evidence’/information supporting previous negative self image and compounding the impression.

The happiness phase is one of the more interesting phases and may be (almost) passed through without knowing. In this phase it is the “Thank Goodness, something is happening at last!” feeling coupled with the knowledge that we may be able to have an impact, or take control, of our destiny and that if we are lucky/involved/contribute things can only get better. If we can start interventions at this stage we can minimise the impact of the rest of the curve and virtually flatten the curve. By involving, informing, getting ‘buy in’ at this time we can help people move through the process.

I have not undertaken any structured experimental research per se, however anecdotal and ‘participant observation’ would imply that this is a fairly robust model. It is also partially based on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s bereavement concept (five stages of grief model) which has widespread acceptance. However…

As with question 1, it is more a case of helping people through the process as effectively as possible. Also each person will experience transition through the curve at slightly different speeds (and we may be at different places on different curves – depending on just what is happening to us at the time). As above, much of the speed of transition will depend on the individual’s self perception, locus of control, and other past experiences, and how these all combine to create their anticipation of future events. Much of the transition is done subconsciously. It may not be initially noticeable and only becomes clear if we look back and reflect on our situation. If we do adopt an introspective approach and recognise where we are in the process, our reaction will depend on our personal style of interacting with our environment and how ‘proactive’ we feel we can be at seeking out support, or leaving the organisation, as appropriate. Obviously should we feel disempowered this may well cause us to descend further down the slide into a deeper depression; reinforced by our perceived helplessness and all the implications associated with that.

“I really like how John’s transition curve illustrates the range of emotions/reactions that can occur when someone is working through change, as well as the timeline being unique depending on the person and the change involved …  I think it is helpful in terms of stopping to reflect [on] not only where you are with a change, but where others are as well in order to attune to what they are experiencing and to help as possible.”

Process of Transition Questions

How do you see these changes affecting you, and in what way?

What will you miss?

What are you looking forward to?

Why do you think they did this?

Can you see anywhere where it does make sense?

How else could you see that?

What do you think the change will affect?

What impact could it have?

Have you seen a similar change before? (and what did you do then)

What is the best thing that could happen right now for you?

What did you do in the past to make sense of something?

How would ??? (fill in the name of someone you could model) act/react

What is the one thing you like about the change now?

What one thing would you change (and how)?

What is it about the change that upsets you so much?

So what do you want to do next?

Is there anything about the new way that you feel does work?

What bits of the old way are you glad has changed?

Why do you think they changed it?

How would you have improved it?

So what now?

How are you going to take the change forward?

How do you see yourself making this work for you?

I’d like to thank Alan Chapman of for his support of the model in hosting it on his website for, what is now, well over a decade. Alan is also responsible for the image of the curve shown above – again thanks Alan.

Thanks to Jörn Scheer for the German translation of the Process of Transition.

This content is Copyrighted. However if you wish to use them for your own private (i.e. non commercial) use then feel free to do so. However if you are using them as part of a package that is being sold (either as a training course, within a behavioural change programme, etc.) then please contact John Fisher for permission.