The good news about getting fired,
though, is that it’s not the worst thing that can happen to you in business.
The worst thing is demotion. Getting fired is definitive and final. It leaves you no options. It forces you to act. demotion, is neither final or definitive. It’s paralysing. It leaves you twisting in the wind, little angry and confused about your newly diminished role yet also grateful that you still have job.

A demotion has many guises
If you’ve been pushed down rung on the corporate ladder, if your pay has been frozen while everyone else has received raise, if client has assigned part of his business to someone else, or if you’ve been forced to accept pay cut, you’ve been demoted.
A lot of people – I call them the “demotionally impaired” – have trouble accepting they’ve been demoted. The shock is so painful they automatically go into denial. They tell themselves that they still have job and steady pay cheque. They still have their dignity and their friends at work. They come up with euphemisms to explain or excuse the hiccup in their careers.
Most often, they blame it on structural change at their companies; management shake up in which they bet on the wrong party and lost.
What demotees fail to see, of course, is that they’ve taken career hit and they’re leaking water. If they don’t do something to repair the damage, they’ll eventually sink.
For most people, the immediate response to demotion is to dust off their resumŽs and start looking for new job. In their minds, their employers have just slapped them in their faces, insulted them, told them that their performances have been found lacking, and that they should step aside for better people to take their places.
That’s logical emotional reaction. But as an employer who has demoted people over the years, I’m not sure it’s the response I’m trying to elicit. My goal is not to force them to work elsewhere (if that’s what I wanted, I would have fired them). My goal is to get them to work better.

Dealing with loss of face
A lot of people miss this, ironically because they have trouble dealing with the humiliation and loss of face that comes with demotion. I say ironic because loss of face is one thing that doesn’t matter in demotion, and yet it’s the hardest part for many people to overcome. They think that everybody knows they’ve been demoted, that they’re walking around with big D on their chests. That’s rarely the case.
Demotions aren’t public floggings (or at least they shouldn’t be). In my experience, they’re done privately and quietly. It’s just between employer and employee.
As I say, in many cases, the employee doesn’t fully realise the demotion. If the employee doesn’t know, what chance do people inside or outside the company have of knowing?
If an employee can get over the loss-of-face issue, demotion can turn into valuable wake-up call.
The strategy is quite simple. The first step is ride it out. In other words, don’t do anything rash or emotional. Don’t quit. Don’t lash out at the boss. Don’t fire off your resumŽs to dozen companies, announcing that you are unhappy and available.
Most important, don’t cry about it to anyone who’ll listen. Keep it to yourself. The fewer people know that you’ve lost stripe or two, the more freedom you’ll have to manoeuvre to regain those stripes.
Step two requires little self-effacement. It means admitting you were wrong. It also means admitting your boss is right. When bosses demote people, they’re not telling them they’re worthless. They’re merely telling someone in the most convincing way they know that he or she is lacking in one or more areas. Until these deficiencies are corrected, the employee’s value is diminished. Hence, the loss of pay or status or power.
Step three is the simplest of all. Once you identify what went wrong, fix it.
A lot of people say that getting fired – by boss, client, or customer – is the best thing that can happen to anyone – once.
(I don’t recommend making habit of it.) It tests your mettle and ingenuity. It can teach you who your real friends are. It often gives you lift out of career rut. If you play it correctly, demotion can achieve the same effect.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management Group.

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