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. 

Betty-Anne Johnson, MBA, EAC

Betty-Anne Johnson, MBA, EAC

Betty-Anne Johnson

Betty-Anne Johnson, MBA, EAC

Professional Certified Coach

When Betty-Anne came to me she wanted a big career change and life transition and had this incredible dream of moving out West and rebuilding her life in a new and positive way. We worked together for 3 months, from April to June 2021, through online sessions.

We started our coaching with an EQ-i 2.0 Assessment and used her results to help navigate her self-discovery and growth journey in our sessions together. 

It wasn’t until October 2022 when we finally met in person for coffee in a North Vancouver coffee shop, that I saw in amazement that she was living her dream and accomplished the goals she set back in April 2021. 

 This is her story.

What was happening before I met Dagmar?

2020 was an interesting year for me.  In January, my divorce became final.  My daughter and I took our first trip to Antigua (and last vacation for 3 years).  The full force of the pandemic hit in March – my work offices closed to the public, and I ended up suddenly driving 22 hours to pick up my daughter at university.  As all the non-essential services started to close down, my daughter and I found ourselves in a new reality – working, studying, working out and socializing from home.  In April, my specialist recommended that I have a partial thyroidectomy due to a high risk of cancer.  I had my surgery in July and I found myself pondering my life and direction while I was recovering at home.  I was headed toward the 20-year mark at my workplace, and my daughter would be completing University soon.

Why was I open to talking with Dagmar?

I reached out to a career counsellor through my EAP, and he told me about Dagmar.  I went onto her website, and something immediately clicked.  With the mountains and the ocean in the background of her profile picture, and her write up about courage and change, I knew I needed to connect with her.

What was my experience with Dagmar as a coach? 

I told her about my dream of relocating to the west coast and that of becoming a coach.  We went to work together!  We did so many amazing exercises – I vividly remember the first visual to address the clarity I would need to make my “Big Leap.”  We systematically worked through my fears (I found out, hidden deep in my survival brain that there was a fear of living in my car).  She went above and beyond – introducing me to so many great people on the west coast.  We did my EQI together and I went forward with leveraging my strengths and identifying areas of growth.  We talked about the phases of major life transitions, and, through her guidance, I identified what I would need to keep my “fire” going strong.

What are my results now?

Well, fast forward to today, February 5, 2023… I am a certified coach living in North Vancouver – my dream.  I am now working on fulfilling the next phases – joining a company with a passion for workplace wellness and starting my own coaching and consulting company.  Having worked in high stress work environment for many years, I would love to help women in the workplace achieve healthy balance.  I am also working with small organizations to demystify the strategic planning process and develop a strategic plan that works!