Why transitions matter more than changes

TunnelWe are living through a time of change and with every change comes a psychological or emotional ‘transition’. Some of these transitions may be small, others large. But all can have a major impact on our ability to reach our goals.

Changes happen in the outer world. They are about starting or finishing a role, a project, or a relationship. Transitions happen in our inner world: they are about what this means for who we are, our identities.

Changes are visible. Transitions are invisible.

Changes involve places, things, events, transactions, and hierarchies. Transitions are about meanings, relationships, and stories.

Comparing changes and transitions

Changes can happen quickly but transitions can take a long time for people to work through.

Changes are predictable but transitions are not.

This is why change guru William Bridges says:

“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”

For example, following a company merger, Jane and her team found themselves with a new reporting line on the organisation chart. The changes they were being asked to make were relatively straightforward to implement: they could easily adopt to the new technologies and performance metrics. But what really mattered to the team was the impact on their identities:

  • Would their work still be as central to the strategy of the firm?
  • Would they still be as close to core decision-makers?
  • Would their status in the industry change?

These were the issues that really mattered to the team and would drive the success or failure of the new strategy. But they were invisible and nobody was really talking about them.

Are you or the people who matter most to you going through any changes at the moment? Is anybody paying attention to the inner psychological and emotional transitions that must also be taking place? Would it be useful to change that?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Stig Nygaard via StockPholio.net

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