Whether you've been reorganized, replaced or outsourced, here's how to handle an involuntary demotion, and even leverage it for greater success!

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Sometimes you demote yourself. For example, you change careers and it necessitates starting over in a “lower” position. Or you determine that a temporary downward move will give you the experience you need to then go after a much more exalted position. Of course, taking off a few years to start a family often means losing ground at work.

These are all OK.

However, when demotion happens to you — this is less OK, and not all that uncommon. Many companies wield demotion (calling it “reorganizing”) as a cost-cutting tool. Some firms demote people to get them to quit, thus avoiding paying severance.

One thing for sure, an involuntary demotion can be stressful and even humiliating. Here are some tips for managing the experience:

Keep your cool. When you receive the news, refrain from reacting out of fear or anger. Instead, take time to think through your response.

Look for the “why.” Once you’ve got your emotions under control, sit down with your supervisor and ask for honest, constructive feedback. You may in fact never learn the whole truth about the “why” of your demotion, but you’ve got to ask.

Look inside. Consider the possibility that you need more education, a stronger work ethic, better skills or a more positive attitude. Also consider the possibility that maybe your old position was just wrong for you.

Look outside. Is your company in financial trouble? Are the jobs in your field being outsourced or replaced by technology? If this is the case, you will definitely need to look for ways to reposition yourself.

In the end, of course, you may find that the only sane response to a demotion is to resign. Just be sure it is a rational, careful decision made in your own time and on your own terms.

One last thought: We live in a culture where we are exhorted to strive for position and power and responsibility. We are supposed to, like sharks, be ever moving forward. But is that what you want? Perhaps you would have a better quality of life and more job satisfaction in a more rewarding “lower” position. A demotion could just turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you!

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.