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‘Four Stages of Denial’ still rampant post lockdown

Four stages of denial

Four Stages of Denial. What you can do about it? First of all: Face the facts. 

While we all prefer that Covid-19 had not happened, however, not dealing effectively with the situation that has presented itself is almost as bad as the event itself. I am still seeing a lot of denial, false hope, and blame, and I am not talking (international) politics now! Plenty of businesses do not have a plan, an approach, or a method to return to profitability, other than the lame ‘regretful restructure’ approach.

The four stages of denial is a useful model when thinking about risk, whether it is commercial, reputational or any other risk an organisation faces. Denial happens when an organisation -or individual- is unprepared to look at the consequences of events or potential events. The four stages of denial are:

  1. It is not going to happen
  2. If it is going to happen, it’s not going to happen to me
  3. If it is going to happen to me, it’s not going to be bad
  4. If it is going to happen to me, and it is bad, there is nothing I can do

When you read these, think about the last time you heard someone in business follow this line of narrative when explaining their dire state of affairs. Was that yesterday? Go figure!

It looks a lot like this example:

  • Stage 1: “The customers will return
  • Stage 2: “If the customers won’t return to all business, at least they will return to us”
  • Stage 3: “If some customers won’t return to us, we’ll still be OK with the ones that do return”
  • Stage 4: “If we do have a massive and sustained drop in revenue, we cannot fight that, and will have to close anyway

It would have been great if globally we had not exercised the four stages to the pandemic that is still rampant. But now it’s here, we face other events or circumstances that we can choose to deny or choose to address. A second outbreak? An even more virulent pandemic? More natural disasters? Climate change induced events?

What I see most businesses now denying, is that our business environment has forever changed. Face the facts. The business climate as we know it has been broken and will be remade for sure, but a different future is in store for us.

So what can you do to prevent the slippery slope of denial?

First of all, always look at the facts. Get your information from multiple sources and encourage diverse views; therefore use your team and your wider network. Analyse the new environment. Build your organisations’ view of the current reality. What are the true risks? What can be done to eliminate or mitigate these risks? This is all part of a solid strategy review and development cycle. Take charge of your own future because no-one else will.


About the author: Geerten Lengkeek is the Managing Director of Productivity People and Co-founder of the Global Lean Alliance