No matter how hard you work, there's one thing that can happen at any time...a mistake!

A person dressed as a superhero screaming,

It's okay, don't panic! Everyone makes mistakes, and there's always a way to resolve them. Different skills can help you address mistakes, but problem-solving skills can be a strong helper in such situations.

1. Critical Thinking

When you make a mistake, it's easy to feel anxious, pressured, or even panicked. Problem-solving skills allow you to remove emotional reactions from the mistake and focus on the facts.

A judge at his bench says,

Using your problem-solving skills, think critically about:

  • Cause: What caused the mistake?

  • Impact: What impact did the mistake create?

  • Solution: What are possible solutions to rectify the mistake?

  • Plan: What steps do you need to take to reach the solution?

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You're a sales associate at a retail store, and you accidentally charged a customer $550. You just noticed this mistake but they've already left the store.

Using critical thinking, you can break down the situation like this:

  • Cause: There was a big queue of customers waiting and you felt pressured. You rushed to enter the digit and pressed $550 instead of $500.

  • Impact: You now need to track down this customer, and it requires your manager's approval. It created more work and it might have decreased this customer's trust in the store.

  • Solution: Your goal is to process the refund as soon as possible and regain the customer's trust.

  • Plan: You can start by notifying your manager immediately. Luckily the customer was a member and you have their email and phone number. You can start by calling the customer, apologizing, and discussing how to organize the refund.

2. Analysis and Research

In order for you to come up with a good solution and make a realistic plan, it's important that you know all the facts. This is another way problem-solving skills can help you.

Problem solving skills can help you conduct thorough analysis and research to go over all the facts and make the most informed decision!

Old footage of a man reviewing a file in an archive.

For example, you can conduct a risk analysis of your mistake in order to better understand its impact and what you need to do to minimize the damage.

Here's an example scenario. You're a manager at a restaurant. There was an incident where a customer fell on the floor. Thankfully, they didn't get injured, but being a good manager, you apply problem-solving skills to analyze the risk like this:


  1. It was a rainy day, and the floor was wet and slippery.

  2. The floor is dark and hard to see.

  3. You found that no staff member warned any customer of the slippery floor.


  1. Add regular floor mopping and proper signage in the staff duty list.

  2. Add floor lighting for better visibility.

  3. Improve staff training and ensure that they know to inform the customers of potential risks.

3. Creativity

Sometimes, the mistake can be a complex one, and there might not be a straightforward solution to resolve it. This is where problem-solving skills can help you, too!

Being creative and thinking outside of the box can help you come up with a unique resolution to handle the mistake in a creative way!

An animation depicting someone's brain illuminating in different colors as they think.

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Imagine you're a customer support representative at a call center and you made a mistake. You told the customer the wrong information, which cost them additional money. You were able to refund them the amount, but the customer is upset with you nonetheless.

A straightforward solution would include a lot of apologies and a store credit or a gift card. But if you're creative, you can try different ways like these:

  • Host a virtual "Customer Appreciation Hour" where you invite them to join a live chat or video call. Apologize directly, answer any questions they may have, and use the opportunity to genuinely thank them for their understanding. This creates more human interaction than a faceless phone call.

  • Invite the customer to an online forum or community where they can share their experiences and contribute to better support/process for other customers. This gives autonomy to the customer, and they might feel empowered as they share their experiences.

4. Communication

Ross from Friends saying,

Communicating with others is another problem-solving skill that helps you address mistakes at work. To help with problem-solving, your communication methods should include:

  • Active listening: You might get some feedback from your peers about your mistake. Active listening will allow you to listen attentively and reflect on their feedback thoroughly.

  • Empathy: When a mistake happens, people might get frustrated. Empathy allows you to remember that their frustration is not targeted at you as a person and focus on working with them to resolve the situation.

  • Team building: The best way to resolve a mistake is to work with your peers collectively, and team building is the key to collaboration!

5. Resiliency

Making a mistake can be stressful. It might make you frustrated, anxious, or worried. But you can use problem-solving skills to overcome these challenging emotions too!

By honing into your problem-solving skills, you can:

  • be honest about your mistake

  • own the mistake

  • focus on the resolution

A woman sitting in front of a fireplace saying,

Feeling guilty and being stuck on negative thoughts doesn't help you reach a resolution. Instead, problem-solving skills will help you look towards the future!

Show What You Learned

Now that you've learned the basics, you can help Alex solve a mistake.

Flaticon Icon Alex just started working for a restaurant as a server a few weeks ago. The job can be physically demanding, but she enjoys talking to the customers and serving them delicious food.

Flaticon Icon But today, she made a mistake. It was very, very busy this Friday evening, and she forgot to pass on the orders from one table to the kitchen. The customers waited for a long time to get their food. They're angry. The kitchen workers are frustrated too. She feels terrible.

She needs your help to resolve her mistake!


Which of the following suggestions would demonstrate Alex's problem-solving skills? Select all that apply:

Take Action

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You're prepared to handle a mistake effectively! Here are a few more things you can try:


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