4 rooms of change

Science has shown that each individual, teams and companies as well, pass 4 different emotional stages when going through a change process.

At the end of the 1960’s Claes Janssen, a swedish psychologist, found out that to adapt something really new – what is somehow a kind of a personal evolution, we typically pass 4 different emotional stages before we are able to make something new our own so that we are able to grow and flourish. Yes, I’m talking about change!

It means that we learn something really new what changes our personal life, behaviour or even culture – in tiny bits or sometimes in the whole.

As a Coach and Facilitator I’m a companion of different kind of change processes. Doesn’t matter if it’s the experience with private players which I accompany as a Co-Active coach, business people, teams and whole companies which I accompany as executive coach and facilitator. These 4 different emotional stages can be seen in almost every single peace of my work – and even it’s effects and it’s my daily work to accompany my customers through all these stages, that’s my passion.

I know that a lot of people are tired to hear and talk about change and I don’t want to challenge the word ‘change’ or something like that. What is important in my opinion is that change is our nature. we’re born to change permanently, every single cell of our body changes and renews several times during our life. We life the evolutionary process in every single day, even if we are not aware of it… so also our life is based on change, what makes a difference is how we handle it.

Becoming aware of these 4 different emotional stages, which Janssen calls ‘the 4 rooms of change’, makes change and adaption a bit easier for almost everybody involved in a change process. Change is never a simple challenge. It’ means we have to leave our comfort zone, got to learn new things and behaviours or even need to relearn something.

room of comfort

the room of comfort

In this stage we’re completely in our comfort zone. We celebrate our status quo with ourselfs and just want to keep it. We do the best of our situation, feel safe and usually no kind of pressure around us. We’re in control of what’s happening around us. We usually try to keep this status and emotional stage as long as possible. That’s why normally just a few situations are able to force us to leave this space of safety – our comfort zone.

There might be an unknown or a complete new experience, a changing environment or circumstances or a changing context. These situations force us to leave the room of comfort and we enter:

room of denial

the room of denial

What happens when something from the outside challenges our comfort zone? There is somehow something around us that puzzles us, something that challenges our foundations, our knowledge, behaviour or even culture. We don’t want to admit what’s going around and we avoid to face the situation. We still want to hold onto our status quo. We don’t want to see that there is something that threatens our status quo.

That’s when we usually enter the room of denial. Here we’re able to do so like everything is still ok, we still think we are under control of the situation. Nevertheless, deep inside of ourself we feel unease, anxiety and frustration. Sometimes even fear. To the outside we start to show defiance and resistance.

There’s a fight starting within us. A fight against ourself. It becomes harder and harder to deny the signals of what’s going on around us. The situation starts to disaffect us and makes us impatient.

When the level of suffering becomes too high, we confess that we have a problem, that there’s a real challenge and that we don’t know what to do!

room of chaos and confusion

the room of confusion

Entering the room of confusion we are concerned and feel huge fear. It becomes clear that our old believes and truths are not valid anymore and that there is no way back to our former comfort zone. Nothing is safe anymore, the old is gone and the new is not in view. This is when our emotions take over control. We feel uncertainty, awkwardness and a sense of disempowerment.

Being at this emotional stage, individuals will just go forward when they are sure that the past ‘values’ really don’t work anymore and that there is at least a sense or hunch of something new, at least a potential vision of the future. As stronger and clearer this vision is, it becomes more easy to overcome the room of confusion and all the emotional suffering which comes with it.

Reaching the rock-bottom of suffering, we start to be poised for the new. At least at this point we become open to get into something new. This is where the most learning happens, even if we pay a huge price for it.

When we start facing the new, little by little, the fog will be lifted and we are about to enter the room of renewal.

room of renewal

the room of renewal

Here is where the revivalism starts. We experience new ways, try new things out and start to learn from failure. We regain orientation, certainty and our capacity to act. We regain self-confidence and become able to open the door to the room of comfort. This is where the circle of change closes until we’re ‘threatened’ to start a new round on this circular course.


Some people might think, hm, why not go directly from the room of comfort to the room of renewal? Unfortunately this is not possible as all the 4 emotional stages need to be walked through to adapt a change. Once in a room, you can’t go back – you just can go forward! In addition, this emotional model scales. Individuals can run through all 4 stages within a day for ‘smaller’ insights. Beyond that, it also scales to teams, companies and even whole societies. As the culture of a team or a company is shaped by the sum of all individuals, an organisation is from a cultural view the sum of all individual behaviours. So even a company, team or complete society has to go through all emotional stages for an evolutionary change process!


If you are involved in a change process, it can be very helpful to create awareness for the 4 rooms of change and it will make your life easier to pass all the emotional stages to reach the new and become something new.

There’re also some other models available which describe phases and stages of change processes. But as they are all much more complicated, I like this model most as it is simple, easy to understand and explain, evident and it makes mapping to our own change-experiences easy and obvious.