The transition curve - the stages of personal transition - by John Fisher
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Originally presented at the Tenth International Personal Construct Congress, Berlin, 1999, and subsequently developed in his work on constructivist theory in relation to service provision organisations at Leicester Univeristy, England, John Fisher's model of personal change - The Transition Curve - is an excellent analysis of how individuals deal with personal change. This model is an extermely useful reference for individuals dealing with personal change and for managers and organizations helping staff to deal with personal change. This item is written by John Fisher and published with his permisssion. See also John Fisher's Process of Transition diagrams on the free online training resources section, or go direct to J Fisher's original Process of Transition diagram or his updated 2003 diagram, (both are pdf's, for which you'll need Acrobat Reader).

John Fisher's personal transition curve


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 organization. They are unsure how to adequately construe acting in the new work and social situations.


The awareness that one's viewpoint is recognised and shared by others. The impact of this is two-fold. 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 prospect 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 it. In this 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 organization needs to manage this phase and ensure unrealistic expectations are managed and redefined in the organizations 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.


The awareness that your values, beliefs and goals are incompatible with those of the organization. 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.


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.

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 organization 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 organization trying to change the culture and focus of its people.

John M Fisher 2000 updated 2003 (disillusionment stage added).

References: The Person In Society: Challenges To A Constructivist Theory, Geissen, Psychosozial-Verlag, and George Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology Theories.

See John Fisher's Process of Transition diagrams on the free online training resources section, or go direct to J Fisher's original Process of Transition diagram or his updated 2003 diagram, (both are pdf's, for which you'll need Acrobat Reader). More diagrams relating to personal change, development and management are available on the free resources section.

John Fisher biography

John's early career was with the Royal Air Force as a technician, from which he moved into simulation engineering and project management consultancy. During the 1990's John achieved a first class honours degree in Psychology from the Open University and an MSc in Occupational Psychology at Leicester University. John's work is underpinned by the psychological framework known as Personal Construct Theory (PCT), as pioneered by George Kelly. This proposes that we must understand how the other person sees their world and what meaning they attribute to things in order to effectively communicate and connect with them. John has organised conferences on PCT, presented papers and co-edited two collections of conference papers as well as having various articles and papers published in conference proceedings and journals. John's current areas of interest are change management and culture/acculturalisation. He presently works with the Xchanging HR Services organization specialising in training design and delivery. John is qualified in MBTI, OPQ and Emotional Intelligence personality tools, NLP and counselling, and is a past winner of the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals award for innovative training deployment. If you'd like any further information about John's work, particularly with reference to his Personal Transition Concept, and the Personal Construct Theory, you can email John at: