Rowing and the 5 stages of grief
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
I have previously written about my daughter's rowing and my observations of her training and interaction with the rest of her rowing squad as they train and race. Well, several months ago, my daughter lost her place in "the eight", the top boat in her year. She was no longer "good enough" to be part of the team as they went into the regatta racing season. After a very successful head racing season this came as a surprise and knocked her for six. Worse was to come, as the very first race she watched from the river bank as the new eight, the top eight came in first. She was gutted, distraught and couldn't understand what she had done wrong.
She was on the first step of the Five Stages of Grief, also known as the change curve or the Kubler-Ross Change Curve (more information on the model is to be found here)
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed the model in her book (On Death and Dying). The results of her work can also be applied to any kind of loss, such as redundancy, divorce, not gaining the sought after promotion etc.
There is no prescribed time for an individual to stay at any one stage; individuals will work through the steps at their own pace, and progress may not be linear.
When someone is stressed, and in "survival mode", the first parts of the cycle, their strong emotions can hijack their thinking. It reduces their ability to reason, objectively or strategically.
Their strong emotions can hijack their thinking.
Time and space will help the individual to move forward to acceptance. And this is how we came to support my daughter as a family unit. We were there to comfort her and offer support. She rapidly passed to through the intermediate steps, struggling to find meaning - what's the point in rowing, and feeling helpless. But she never once thought of quitting.
We realised she was at ACCEPTANCE when she started asking for advice, what could she
do differently, how could she win back her seat. This was a joy to experience. Her determination over the coming months, culminating in a disciplined summer holiday of training was a lesson for hardened professionals let alone teenagers. The good news is that she regained her place and more, her coach came up to me in the autumn and shook my hand to congratulate me for my work. While incredibly happy to receive this reaction, I was clear. The positive change was primarily from her hard work, perseverance, discipline and sacrifice. The desire to be better and to be a member of the team will serve her well as she heads to university and her first job in the years to come.
It is helpful to be aware of the five stages of grief at this time of year, typically when professional and financial service firms award discretionary bonuses and announce promotions. Your peers, team members and managers will likely be going through their own five stages of grief. Start with being aware of what they might be experiencing, then be available to share information, be supportive and then when they are ready - provide guidance and direction if you can.
Being aware of the model and the five stages can be incredibly powerful in of itself. A client recently described the adverse reaction a member of their global senior leadership team had to his promotion and change of role. He wanted to confront the conflict proactively. Often this can be the best course of action as conflict does not age well. However, in this case, we talked about the change model. I introduced him to the five stages and discussed where this person was and why. We compared the risk/reward of his intended course of action if they were indeed in DENIAL, and in particular, when someone is stressed, their strong emotions can hijack their thinking. This stress reduces their ability to reason, objectively or strategically, and so they would have been unlikely to listen and think logically.
By giving the person time and space, not making an issue of the perceived reaction, they were able to pass through the model to acceptance quickly. My client was impressed that the model accurately described what he saw this experienced manager go through. Now at ACCEPTANCE, they are aligned and working effectively together without any conflict.
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