Grief is not exclusively associated with death. We witness that in organisations when change transpires, how people manage change resembles how they deal with grief and loss. We forfeit something whenever things change. We must accept an ending and a new beginning, and there are no absolute norms; grief is a unique experience for everyone. When people work for organisations, they come to work and bring their whole selves. They bring their personal history, their emotions, and their individual views about the world. So people can find it hard to separate them from facts.

Four emotional positions

1) Shock and denial phase this stage may last a few minutes, days or weeks. During this phase, the person has difficulty believing or denying reality and may be unable to react.

2) Protest phase this stage may last a few weeks or months. During this phase, the person may experience anger, incomprehension, a feeling of injustice, guilt varying degrees, and a search for a culprit and a meaning to the loss. 

3) Disorganisation phase this stage may last a few weeks or months. The person may feel very sad, anxious and helpless. They may also withdraw themselves and lose interest in their usual activities.

4) Reorganisation and adaptation phase this stage can last from a few months to a few years. After that, the person is less overwhelmed by the loss and gradually regains the ability to have fun. 

Resistance to acceptance

Accepting grief does not mean resigning oneself to losing what one has failed. Instead, it is to open up and welcome the emotions in me. Acknowledging your feelings (grief, hurt, fear, boredom, anger, etc.) and admitting that they are part of you as if you were in physical pain. If you were in pain, you would analyse when it happens and what you have eaten. You would listen to your body and pay attention to the physical symptoms, wouldn’t you? Grief is more abstract, but the principle is similar. Experiencing emotions related to this adaptation process (anger, sadness, boredom, etc.) allows you to internalise and gradually reorganise yourself. Part of the evolution of this process often takes place without our knowledge. If we try to bury or daze our emotions, they remain stored inside us and can cause problems in our lives, relationships, and physical health.

As a people manager, it is vital to remember four things.

  1. Grief reactions must be shared. This helps people process emotions and navigate them to acceptance.
  2. There is anticipatory grief. People can grieve what has not happened.
  3. Meet people where they are rather than where you want them to be. Everyone goes through a grieving process differently. Be patient and be compassionate with yourself first and then others.
  4. Intensify your position as a role model and help people see it.

But before you go into saviour mode, check in with yourself 

  • Take a few moments to visualise this event, and breathe quietly, listening to your body.
  • What sensation(s) is in your body? 
  • What emotion can you relate to?
  • Position yourself on the grief curve.
  • Do you feel stuck in this stage? 
  • What do you need right now? 
  • Can you express your need? To what value is this need connected? Connect to this value. Has it been violated? 
  • Accept the moment’s emotion, look at it and thank it for what it is saying to you because it is about you.
  • How do you feel after this exercise?

And to better understand your emotions and use the correct words, you will be able to place more awareness of your pain.

Examples of questions to ask yourself are:

  • “What exactly does it mean to me to experience this change in the org? And why?
  • “How exactly is it impacting me in my life?
  • “Even though I may lose something, what do I gain in return?
  • “What are my inner voices telling me about this loss?
  • “Where are those voices coming from? Has anyone ever said that to me?
  • “How do I feel inside and physically?
  • “Am I resisting something? If so, what am I fighting?

Also, talking to people you trust can help you to clarify your thinking and see things differently than you already know. And meditation can be a tool to help with this process of reflection, attention and observation. Finally, be aware that healing from grief does not mean that the loss no longer affects you. Instead, it means that its impact is less significant in your life, that the suffering takes up less space in you and that you can better manage the emotions related to this grief.

Examples of questions to ask your team.

While it is stirring internally, much information about our needs and desires arises within us. This valuable period can lead us to question our values, priorities, limits, etc. As a result, this exercise can trigger or reinforce our need to make the changes required to lead more. Please question yourself and write down your answers and thoughts during this time. Writing is very beneficial in this type of process. It allows you to ventilate, clarify your ideas and mind, and lighten your body simultaneously. 

Following this reflective and awareness phase, it would be to your advantage to take advantage of the learnings and make some changes in your life to live a more coherent life. Our defence mechanisms (fear, stress, anxiety, etc.) will spontaneously come to the fore. Newness and the unknown generally cause these reactions in humans, which is normal.

Helping your team overcome grief is, first and foremost, a matter of listening and empathy. But it also means knowing they will go through five unavoidable stages: shock, refusal, anger, depression and acceptance.

We all know that life is full of ups and downs. The more we accept this fact, the easier life becomes. It is simpler because instead of seeing the pitfalls and resistance, we can see the moments to learn, grow and develop. Keep in mind that organisational life is without obstacles; although the suffering is real, these events are there to allow us to continue our evolution. As a people leader, it is hyper-essential to intensify your position as a role model and help people see it and to meet people where they are. You may be on acceptance, and they are in denial. Please don’t force it. Just be a solid presence and a compassionate leader.


  • Sunita Sehmi

    Organisational Dev I Exec Leadership Coach I Author I Mentor I

    Walk The Talk

    Org Dev Consultant I Exec Leadership Performance Coach I DEI Warrior I Author I Mentor I Work smarter I Live better I Think deeper. With over three decades of expertise in multicultural environments, Sunita brings a unique blend of Indian, British, and Swiss heritage to her consultancy, fostering a deep understanding of organisational contexts and her clients. Sunita’s insights and expertise are tailored to elevate your leadership.