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With Just 3 Words, Michael Jordan Taught Mike Krzyzewski a Powerful Lesson in Emotional Intelligence

Michael Jordan, Coach K, and three powerful we should all use every day.

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BY Jeff Haden - 08 Jan 2019

michael jordan lesson on emotional intelligence

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In 1992, Michael Jordan was at the height of his powers: The best pure scorer in the NBA, face behind a marketing juggernaut... and arguably the best player on the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, a collection of superstars many consider to be the greatest team ever assembled.

Dream Team assistant Mike Krzyzewski was also no slouch, having just coached Duke to two NCAA Championships.

Even so: Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan.

And then this happened.

Here's Coach K:

It was after our first practice... and he came over and said, 'Coach, I'd like to work on some of my offensive stuff... would you please work with me?'

I thought he was coming over to give me a hard time, because he's from North Carolina and I'm from Duke... and I actually think it was his way of making me feel comfortable.

He said, 'Coach,' and he said, 'Please,' and when it was over, he said 'Thanks.'

He could have said, 'Hey, get over here, idiot, and work with me,' and I would have done that. I would have done it. Just like a lot of people in workplaces will do their job. But then I would have felt as inconsequential, and had no ego whatsoever, because it was stripped from me by the main guy. Instead, he gave me a chance to have an ego.

He called me with respect, 'Coach,' just like knowing a person's name. He said 'please' and 'thank you'... in other words, there was no organizational chart where he was the top guy and I'm here on the bottom.

It was a tremendous, tremendous thing.

"Coach." "Please." "Thanks." Three simple words.

Three powerful words: Words that built a bridge, established a relationship, and harnessed the power of asking for help.

The Power of Asking for Help

When you ask for help -- especially from someone who works for you -- a few things happen.

  • You implicitly show you respect the person giving the advice,
  • You show you respect that person's experience, skill, and insight, and
  • You show you trust that other person, since by asking for help you've made yourself vulnerable.

While it's relatively easy to ask for help, it's harder to ask for help when the assistance is personal.

I once went to a meeting to talk about layoffs. By the time I got back to the plant, word had already spread that cuts were coming. One of my employees said, "So, layoffs, huh?" I didn't have to confirm it; he knew. I said, "I have no idea what to tell our employees. What would you say?"

He thought and said, "Just tell everyone you tried. Then talk about where we go from here." Simple? Sure, but powerful too. He later told me how much it meant to him that I had asked for his opinion and taken his advice.

Ask for help, in part because you realize the person who provides you with that help will automatically feel greater self-respect, self-esteem, and self-worth, because they have received one of the greatest gifts of all:

Knowing they just made a difference in another person's life.

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