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People Who Embrace the ‘Z-Y-X Rule’ Have Very High Emotional Intelligence

This is a story about a simple trick that will help you communicate better and achieve the things you want in life. It’s deeply rooted in  emotional intelligence, so if you find it intriguing, I invite you to download my ebook: Improving Emotional Intelligence 2021, which you can find here for free.

We’ll call it the “Z-Y-X Rule.” Why? Because the easiest way to explain it and make it stick is to show how it’s really a reverse-engineered understanding of the key advice that Google gives applicants on how to improve their odds of getting hired at Google, and which we refer to as the “X-Y-Z Formula.”

Google gets more than two million applicants every year. Even with machine learning and artificial intelligence reviews of incoming resumes, Google teaches applicants that there’s an important way to stand out in the crowd. 

It’s to communicate every line on a resume with the following structure: “Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y], by doing [Z].” 

Example: “Grew revenue for 15 small and medium business clients by 10% by mapping new software features as solutions to their business goals.”

The point is to connect the overall achievement — the thing that you’re good at, and that as an applicant, you might hope Google will value — to the means and the performance you used to get there.

Most people don’t do that. Instead, they offer vague accomplishments (“grew revenue for small businesses”).

Even worse, they offer position-based or responsibility-based bullet points (“served as sales consultant,” or else, “was responsible for increasing revenue”) without explaining how they did what they did, or how effective they were at it.

Removing unhelpful emotional reactions

Great, you might say at this point. Yay Google. But I don’t want to work there.

What does this have to do with communication, emotional intelligence, and achieving big goals in my personal and professional lives?

The crux of emotional intelligence involves removing unhelpful emotional reactions from your interactions while simultaneously emphasizing helpful reactions and improving the clarity of your thinking.

So, reverse engineering the X-Y-Z Formula means turning your “X” — your big objective — into a brightly lit North Star. The “Z” is just a means to get to the “X.”

It’s not the ultimate goal, and it’s almost never the only way to get there. But people fall into the emotional trap of thinking that it is.

I feel like we’re going to need a non-work-related example quickly, or else I’m going to lose you. So here’s a relatable one.

Baseball is boring, anyway

Imagine that you’re a parent. You love your children. Sometimes, you wish you could spend more quality one-on-one time with them.

Then, a friend tells you that she has tickets to an exciting event near where you live. It could be anything: a big game, a concert. She has a last-minute conflict and she asks if you’d like to use her tickets.

You’re super-grateful, and you get excited about the chance to take your kids to this sought-after event.

Only… it turns out that the kids aren’t as excited as you are about going.

  • Maybe, they come along, but they quickly go into full-on “sullen, moody teen mode.”
  • Or else, maybe they’re younger, and they suddenly revert: temper tantrums, 10 trips to the bathroom, etc.
  • Or else they tell you flat-out that “baseball is boring, anyway,” or “I don’t like soccer,” or they don’t like the kind of music they’ll be playing at this concert.
  • Or they reveal that they already saw the show you have tickets for, and they don’t want to go.

Now, you feel dejected. Frustrated. Even angry. You managed to get this great opportunity, and your kids won’t go along.

The problem, however, is yours: You’ve become so focused on the success of your “Z” — going to this particular event with your child — that you’re now letting your emotions obstruct the path to your “X,” which is your goal of finding ways to spend quality time.

Heck, the tickets were free. If this didn’t work, it’s not the only “Z.” You don’t want to respond as if it were.

But you’re only human. And if you’re not careful, and you can’t keep your eye on the ultimate goal, your emotions can lead you there.

She’s just not that into you

You’re running a small business. You know that you have a good product and a sizable potential market. 

The problem is that potential clients just don’t hear about you.

So, you decide to hire a marketing director. You advertise the opening, comb through resumes, interview the most promising candidates, and get very excited about one applicant in particular.

You offer her the job, and you start making plans for her to join your team.

Then, she turns you down. Maybe it’s the money, maybe she has another offer, maybe she just isn’t as into your company as you are into her. It hurts.

But, you tell me. Is your ultimate goal to hire this particular person as your in-house marketing director? Or is hiring this person a “Z” — a potential means to the true goal (the “X”), which is to improve your marketing and sales?

Yes, it’s frustrating to miss out on a good candidate. But the Z-Y-X Rule reminds you to that there are probably other ways to get to your “X,” and it’s not worth any counterproductive emotional attachment to this particular “Z.”

OK, but what about the ‘Y?’

Some of this back goes as far decades or more: “Start with the end in mind,” as the late Stephen R. Covey wrote. 

But the Z-Y-X Rule reminds us that successful people can identify their main objectives, along with the subordinate strategies and tactics that they use to get there. The “X” is the goal; the “Z” is the hoped-for strategic milestone.

And the “Y,” by the way, is the “why.” 

In Google’s resume framework, which is backward-looking, the “Y” is used to measure how the “Z” led an applicant to his or her “X.” But our framework is forward-looking, and so the “Y” is your prediction of why “X” might enable you to achieve “Z.”

If you can’t articulate the Y, then X and Z might not really have anything to do with each other, and it might be time to reassess your plan.

A former employee comes to you for a favor. Let’s call him Joe. He hopes you’ll write a recommendation so that he can apply to a part-time master’s degree program that he hopes will help him get ahead.

Joe was a very good employee, and you enjoyed working with him. You’d like to remain on good terms, and frankly, you wouldn’t mind if Joe happened to tell his colleagues that you’d helped him; that might be good for their morale as well.

At the same time, you have significantly more experience in your field, and you find yourself perplexed that Joe thinks this particular master’s degree program would help his career. 

I mean, maybe he has a perspective you don’t. And you’ll write the recommendation if he wants it.

Yet, you ask him, gently but firmly: Explain to me why (there’s the “Y”) you think that getting this master’s degree (the “Z”) will help you achieve your ultimate career goals (the “X.”)

You’re doing Joe a favor by pushing on this point a bit and maybe even introducing him to the Z-Y-X Rule by name. But then, here’s the even more advanced, super-high level interpretation of Z-Y-X: 

Suppose Joe can’t articulate a good “Y” connecting his “Z” to his “X.” Maybe he can’t even articulate his “X” to begin with. Even if every bone in your body now tells you that this master’s program is not a good use of his time, the Z-Y-X Rule also means that you have to remember your own perspective.

Your “X” is not the same as Joe’s. Your “X” is is to remain on good terms with Joe and to display the loyalty that you’d like other employees to see. 

Thus, your “Z” is to write the recommendation, even if you’re skeptical that doing so will enable Joe to reach his “X,” whatever it might be.

Your ‘X’ is your business

One more point. The Z-Y-X Rule means that you should be able to think through how your “Z” will lead you to your “X.” But it doesn’t obligate you to articulate that framework — or else, to explain what your “X” is — to anyone else. 

Imagine your company has a backlog of widgets that you need to sell. Your goal — your “X” — is to empty the warehouse, make a profit, and make room for next year’s product. So, your “Z” is to get these products into your customers’ hands.

You’d never articulate an “X” like that to a potential customer, however.

Instead, you’d try to understand his or her “X,” and articulate why and how “Z” — buying your widgets — would help him or her get there. 

At the start of this article, I promised you a simple trick. Simply means “easily articulated,” or “easily understood.” It doesn’t necessarily mean “easily executed.”

So, maybe chew on this one a little bit, and see if it makes sense.  

Your ultimate goal — not to get too meta, but your “X” — is to achieve what you want in life and communicate better with people.

If using the Z-Y-X Rule can help get there, use it. If not, don’t spend too much emotional energy; just find another means to your end. The key, as always, is to keep looking.

(Don’t forget the free ebook, Improving Emotional Intelligence 2021.)

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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