You may at some point have seen a version of the Change Acceptance curve. People process change in very similar ways along a path that, when it works, takes them from status quo levels of satisfaction through denial, resistance, exploration, hope and commitment.


Interestingly, this maps pretty neatly to the stages of grief: denial & isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. One useful filter for change management is to view it as a way to help people move through their grief about why things cannot “be like they always were before.”

The stages of grief includes anger. In change management, we have denial and resistance. Negative employee reactions often surprise leaders when there is every reason to expect them.


The way that your company manages the inevitable conflict that comes with these emotions will define your success, regardless of any “key messages”:

  1. Fight…. You take negative feedback and make immediate reactive concessions. In doing so, you encourage a culture of destructive conflict by rewarding behaviors that reinforce the status quo. Change is hard enough without incenting negativity.
  2. …or Flight. You ignore employee input and hope that it does not escalate. Not enough communication and an unwillingness to address objections simply allows false rumors to bloom and negative messages to spread. Flight can also manifest as dense, often legal, language that tries to obscure content and hide accountability.
  3. Constructive conflict. The long play is to bring people into your discussion. Accept valid criticism and adjust where you can while holding to your objectives. Be clear about those objectives. Every company has people who will automatically embrace or reject virtually any corporate effort. Do not over-emphasize either extreme of this spectrum.

At some point in any change effort, someone will come to you and say, “People are complaining.”
When framed that way, the observation is loaded with emotions and implies a reactive response. Make that conversation constructive by starting with questions like these:

  • How many people are complaining? What percentage of the affected population? (Did we fail to communicate to three people, or did we successfully communicate to 9,997?)
  • How are you receiving that input – direct phone calls to you? Call center data? Centralized service email inbox? Other? (How solid is our data?)
  • What exactly are the complaints? Are they constructive? Can they be categorized and prioritized? (Can we use this feedback to show that we are listening and acting on constructive insights?)

It is sane and completely human to dislike change. Do not put your credibility at risk by trying to get employees to like the change that you are introducing. Instead, preserve trust. That starts by accepting initial conflict. Work purposefully to make the conflict constructive.


I wish there were a single approach that would always give you a good result. Communication experts have tools, but each situation has unique features that require flexibility, experience and judgment as the effort unfolds and we react to new information.


What I can say with confidence is that templates from past efforts or communication “plans in a can” will not work. Communicating significant changes differs greatly from other kinds of communication. Make sure you are prepared for those new challenges.