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Excerpt for Keri Phillips’ Paper



I have been aware of The Transition Curve for many years. I, and I know countless others, have found it extremely valuable for helping people explore some of their reactions to change.  A few months ago I became very interested in the idea of the Shadow and began exploring ways in which this might be linked to the model. From this almost speculative connection I then began reflecting on many other possibilities which might be built on and from this well-established idea. Coaching was the context within which I continued my exciting and often confusing journey. In doing so I was aware that some of my thoughts were almost technical in character, others were rather more philosophical and yet others were somewhere in between. It occurs to me that sometimes that is the nature of transition – the need to handle both the practical and the profound: seeking new tools as well as questioning long-standing assumptions and beliefs. Anyway, the time has come to move towards a rather more thought-through elaboration of my ideas, having already ‘thought out loud’ on my blog, but in a rather disjointed way.

Although I am certain that the transition curve will be familiar territory for many of my readers, I will begin this paper by covering the key ideas. It seems, anyway, wise to do so since, during the thirty and more years that it has been around, many have played with it and developed variations. In no way would I claim mine is a definitive version; rather I acknowledge my debt to Sabina Spencer and John Adams.  Not only did they write a fine and highly accessible book on this topic1, but also I was lucky enough to attend one of their workshops at Ashridge Management College in the mid-1980’s. Those who describe the transition curve normally also refer back to a book co-authored by John Adams, John Hayes and Barry Hopson in the 1970’s, ‘Transitions: Understanding and Managing Personal Change’2, 3.  As part of their research they drew on the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross4 and her ideas regarding death and grieving.

In the second part of this paper I bring in more of my own ideas.  I consider some of the underlying emotions which may be in play.  In particular I consider ‘the cusp’ as a potentially key point within the transition. It is here that, to my mind, the shadow may have particular relevance.

The third and concluding part looks specifically at the possible implications for coaches.

As is always the case in my writing I do not attempt to provide definitive answers. Rather I offer possibilities hoping thereby to stretch the limits of my understanding. I therefore invite my readers to play around with, modify, discard and build on my offering.


The model gives a framework for recognising some of the common reactions to change, across two axes. One is Time and the other is Sense of Personal Competence; the latter focussing on the extent to which the person feels capable of handling the challenges of the change. Normally the line is shown finishing at a higher point than at the start; that is to say, learning from the experience of change hopefully enhances one’s skills and self-confidence.

For a copy of the full paper just email Keri at: