Why transitions matter more than changes

TunnelWe are living through a time of many changes. And with every change comes a psychological or emotional ‘transition’.

Some of these transitions are 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 project, a role, or relationship. Transitions happen in our inner world: they are about what this means for our identity, whether we are competent, loveable, and how (un)important we are.

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

Changes are visible, tangible. Transitions are invisible, intangible.

Changes can happen quickly but transitions can take a long time for people to work through.Comparing changes and transitionsChanges are predictable, transitions are not.

This is why change guru William Bridges says:

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

As an 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 implement were relatively straightforward: they could easily adopt the new technologies, focus on the new priorities, and work to the new performance metrics. But what really mattered to the team was the impact on their identities:

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

These were the issues that really mattered to the team: they would drive the success or failure of the merger. But these transitions were invisible and nobody was talking about them, let alone managing 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 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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