People Tools: 54 Strategies for building relationships, creating joy, and embracing prosperity

by Alan C. Fox

Alan C. Fox writes with the tone of a grandfather sharing advice. Each “people tool” is described in a two to four page chapter, making it easy to read in small increments of spare time. Here is a sampling:

Snip – “Unless a tall tree falls, its tiny successor will never be bathed in full sunlight. In other words, you have to make room for your future… A word, thought, paragraph, or entire chapter—each may be beautiful, but if it doesn’t belong, doesn’t add to the total, then Snip. This applies to real life just as it does to writing… If it isn’t working in your life (be it a relationship, a job, or an adjective), then Snip and make room for something which may work better.”

Belt Buckle – Football players “fake with their heads, fake with their shoulders, and some can even fake with their knees. But they can’t fake with their belt buckle. Wherever that’s going, that’s where they’re going… ‘The check is in the mail’ is not the same as the check itself… Words are not the same as performance… All of our thoughts, words, and promises may deceive us, but our actions are the true statements of our identity… I can be tricked by words, but I’m seldom fooled by actions.”

Stuff It Into Your Sub – “The idea I found in Psych 101 was that your subconscious (your ‘sub’ for purposes of this chapter) can solve a problem for you without active conscious effort. If you need to solve a problem but can’t come up with an immediate answer, all you have to do is stuff the information and the problem into your sub. Then revisit your sub in an hour or day or week and see if your sub has finished its work.”

Catch Them Being Good – In another psychology class, the professor explained positive reinforcement. “‘If you want someone to repeat a behavior, give them praise… Criticism for mistakes is not as effective.’ … Over the following month, I tried to catch everyone I knew being good. I became less and less surprised, and more and more delighted to find that everyone seemed to find my praise encouraging.”

Nonversation is an alternative to bickering. When your significant other complains about something you did, you can respond with Intent to Learn or Intent to Defend. “We have a nonversation. This means that one of us tells the other his or her complaints, with no response expected or, indeed, allowed… Only one of us has a turn today. No explanations, no answers, no promises. Just listening. I don’t have to start out angry, because I know that she is not going to be defensive or tell me I wrong, because she isn’t going to reply at all.”

Sunk Cost is a financial term referring to money that has already been spent. “The cost of the old machine is entirely irrelevant. It’s a sunk cost… The only relevant question today is, Can you earn a greater future profit from the machine you have, or from a new one. It makes no difference if your present machine was installed today or fifty years ago.” To illustrate how this can be applied as a People Tool, the author explains that when he booked a cruise, he paid extra for a tour at one of the ports. When the day came, he chose to skip the tour. “Did I waste money? I don’t think so. I paid for an option to go on the excursion. The money was gone. Sunk Cost. The important question was how could I best enjoy my afternoon? My answer is that I thoroughly enjoyed myself in my cabin.”

Shrink the Glass – “They say an optimist sees the glass as half full, while the pessimist sees the same glass as half empty. Recently I asked an engineer about this hypothetical glass. His answer? The glass is twice as big as it needs to be… Life is a succession of experiences. Our task is to make those experiences as pleasant for ourselves as we can. Those experiences are what they are. Our reaction to those experiences is subjective, and largely within our control. The water in your glass is fixed. The size of your glass is entirely up to you.”

At the beginning of each chapter, the author includes two quotes from famous people. In the chapter titled Fry Another Egg, the author quotes Francis Bacon. I propose a toast.

The author also wrote People Tools for Business in the same format.

Fox, Alan C. People Tools: 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing Prosperity. New York: Select Books, 2014. Buy from

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