3-Phase Approach to Managing Transitions

3-Phase Approach to Managing Transitions

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another.”
Anatole France

Let’s talk about transitions. What are transitions and why is it important to understand them?

According to William R Bridges, transition is the inner psychological process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the new situation that the change brings about. He desribes it also in simple terms as the personal and human side of change.

The biggest mistake individuals and organizations make when trying to navigate or implement change is not understanding giving attention to the personal experience of change. We as humans go through a deeply personal process as we navigate change, often requiring grief, letting go, acceptance, encouragement, validation, support, hope and a vision of the future. If individuals or teams are feeling stuck in change, it’s typically because one of these requirements are not being met.

Common examples of professional and personal transitions include:


  • Career change
  • Taking on a new role at work
  • Implementing new systems or technology
  • Divorce
  • Moving in together with an intimate partner
  • Moving countries and relocating
  • Critical illness of yourself or a loved one

What makes transitions difficult isn’t necessarily the change itself, but rather the evolving within ourselves that has to occur to successfully move through a transition.

Each of the examples above require a kind of personal evolving. Like William R Bridges explains, individuals will go through an inner pschological process as they come to terms with the new situation.

It’s during this inner process that’s the hardest and often brings up the most amount of fear such as:


  • Fear of the unknown and uncertainty
  • Fear of getting hurt
  • Fear of looking incompetent
  • Fear of being irrelevant
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of other people finding out about your faults
  • Fear of feeling difficult emotions
  • Fear of loss
  • Self-doubt that you will be successful in making the transition

So how do we deal with this fear and self-doubt? How can we effectively navigate this inner psychological process and this required evolving? How do we do this without getting stuck?

William and Susan Bridges created a road map to get through the most difficult work and life passages. In their book Managing Transitions – Making the Most of Change they introduce their practical and powerful 3 phase approach, The Bridges Transition Model, to managing transitions and share examples on how to apply it for yourself and in organizations.

Bridges Transitions Model

This 3 phase model is so helpful because when you can see the big picture of the transition, it gives you understanding where you might find yourself in it. Finding yourself, your team and your organization in this model also provides validation and acknowledgement for how and why you might be struggling. It also provides valuable context for creating a plan and strategy for a way forward and how to become unstuck. From this, it can provide individuals and teams a sense of hope and encouragement in creating their new beginning. 

The 3 phases of transition are:

  • Endings – Letting go of the old ways and the old identity you had. This first phase of transition is an ending and the time when you need support in dealing with your losses.
  • Neutral Zone – Going through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. We call this the ‘neutral zone’: it’s when the critical psychological realignments and repatternings take place.
  • New Beginnings – Coming out of the transition and making a new beginning. This is when you develop the new identity, experience the new energy, and discover the new sense of purpose that makes the change begin to work. 
managing transitions article

“Because transition is a process by which people unplug from an old world and plug into a new world, we can say that transition begins with an ending and finishes with a beginning.” William Bridges, PhD.

If you’re finding yourself in a transition that’s challenging, try asking yourself these 3 questions:
  1. What phase are you possibly feeling stuck in? 
  2. How could you give yourself or your team validation and acknowledgement right now for where you’re at?
  3. What are some things you could do to support you and/or your team in moving through either phase 1 or 2 so you can experience the energy and renewal that awaits you in phase 3?

Most transitions are accompanied with discomfort. Most transitions are difficult. AND, most transitions will present you and/or your team with an opportunity to evolve and grow. 

We can be more successful in evolving, growing and feeling renewed when we have a strategy or a framework to help us navigate the process.