The unfortunate (or fortunate depending on how you look at it!) reality of life is that situations don't always turn out as planned, especially in the workplace.

Even with extensive organization, hard work, and high expectations, our circumstances aren't always met with the outcomes we desire.

A man tuck in traffic on the way to the office

Like being stuck in traffic, when things don't go as planned, you may feel like you've hit a roadblock.

Applying problem-solving strategies will help you adapt to unexpected situations and become more equipped to tackle future challenges in your workplace, whether you're an entry-level employee or a CEO.

Problems You May Encounter

🛠 Troubleshooting technical issues

❌ Resolving a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else

🗓 Dealing with a scheduling or staffing shortage

😬 Resolving a conflict with a coworker or a dispute between team members

💼 Overcoming rejection of a job application or promotion

😤 Resolving an issue with an upset customer

👎 Experiencing and addressing job satisfaction

👷‍♀️ Solving a safety issue

1. Mindset Is Key

Adopt a growth mindset to overcome any obstacle.

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When faced with an unexpected challenge...

  1. Embrace the problem to direct your focus on solutions rather than on the issue itself.

  2. Be open to feedback to gain perspective on the situation.

  3. Analyze the root cause of the problem to help you hone in on a solution.

  4. Brainstorm solutions to help you evaluate your options.

  5. Maintain a confident attitude to unlock your untapped potential for growth.

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With a growth mindset, you'll be more open to:

  • New ideas and perspectives

  • Innovation and learning

  • Change and what's not "familiar"

  • Ongoing adaptability

Woman affirming her capability to achieve what she desires.

2. Think Differently

Challenge Your Assumptions

You bring a set of assumptions to any given situation. Sometimes these assumptions are not so obvious to detect.

Ask yourself: What am I not seeing in the situation?

Flaticon Icon Natasha's department is about to face significant budget cuts.

Flaticon Icon Natasha's advisor suggested that she lay off employees to cut costs.

Flaticon Icon Natasha is disheartened about making job cuts. These valued team members have helped drive the success of the company.

Flaticon Icon Natasha doesn't want to lay off staff but she assumes that conducting layoffs is the only way to address the budget problem.


What can Natasha do to best challenge her assumptions in this situation?

3. Be Resourceful

Our idea of the problem solver working alone is inaccurate. Excellent problem solvers seek help and gain new perspectives from their networks.

Turn to Your Social Network

When you encounter an unexpected challenge at work, ask yourself: Who do I know that may have insight or expertise in this area?

Depending on the situation, you may seek out coworkers on your team, from other departments, or relevant contacts within your broader social network.

Three cartoon books with faces in a circle holding books.

Capitalize on Collaboration

When you welcome diverse perspectives into your problem solving, you address the situation and your response to it from different angles.

Harness Your Creativity

Innovation is an essential component for efficient problem-solving. Utilize your intellectual resources to think outside of the box!


Samira received some negative complaints about a new company policy she enacted. What should she do?

4. Try, Try, Try Again

It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.

— Albert Einstein, physicist

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Don't give up. In most cases, you must be persistent when faced with a challenge before reaching a strategic and viable solution.

But within reason...

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

— Rita Mae Brown, author Flaticon Icon

While persistence is a good idea, experts caution against going overboard when it comes to gathering information to formulate a solution.

You don't want to spend too much time brainstorming every possible outcome at each stage in the process.

Avoid this by being clear and straightforward about what you wish to address.

Take Action

It's inevitable you'll experience unexpected challenges at every stage in your career.

What's important is your ability to adapt to these situations and respond professionally.

A person writing on a paper in front of two laptops

Devote time now to consider how you have and will respond to future challenges.


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