Author Barbara Burke

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My story of how a heartfelt question lead to a book about a napkin, a melon and a monkey.

If I could recall the name of the young woman who asked me 15 years ago how to handle angry, abusive customers, I would thank her.

Her eyes welled up with tears as she told the 20 other service reps in the workshop, that she couldn’t take it any more. Night after night she’d return home exhausted from the stress of dealing with the steady stream of calls from angry, frustrated people who blamed her for their problems. While the young woman realized that irate customers came with the job, she knew that if she couldn’t figure out a way to deal with all the negativity, she would be forced to quit.

It was obvious that this young woman needed more than the standard advice: “Let the customer vent.” I drew a diagram on the flip chSODA Stick Figuresart that illustrated a lesson I learned the hard way: that when a customer is angry, they are frustrated with their situation. It’s not personal. The best advice I could give her was to create some emotional space between herself and the tsunami of angry words. If she could do that, she could see that it wasn’t about her. The customer was upset and frustrated with their situation. It wasn’t personal.

I pointed out that what she was experiencing, and what was causing her undue stress, was having to be in constant “fight or flight” mode. Left over from the time when our early ancestors needed to act quickly to avoid being killed by an enemy or a wild animal, that automatic, primal response was not an effective way to handle emotional attacks from our customers.

I did not realize until several years later that the underlying concept of SODA (Stop.Observe.Decide.Act) had actually been around for 2500 years. Today the sodasignfinterm we use for remaining calm and in the moment is “mindfulness.” Being mindful means being aware of the “here and now.” Not judging situations as good or bad, difficult or easy, allows us to see what is possible.

Over the next few years I included the SODA concept in my workshops and was astonished by the impact it had on people’s lives. Not only did the regular use of this simple 4-step process reduce their stress, it made them feel more in charge. Instead of feeling powerless, at the mercy of the behavior of others, they discovered that when they chose to be more mindful they felt less like a victim. They had regained their personal power.

In August of 2003 I embarked on an extraordinary journey that changed my life forever. I had always wanted to make a significant difference in the lives of others and decided to make it my mission to introduce SODA and the transformative power of mindfulness to a worldwide audience. Since I loved fable books for their simplicity and had utilized them in my consulting practice, I decided to write a simple story about a struggling service rep, much like the woman I had met years earlier, who with the help of a wise mentor, figured out how to struggle less and enjoy life more by simply changing her mind.

I self-published The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey in 2006. Since the story is set in a call center, the book found a natural home in customer service departments and call centers. By 2007 the book was in its third printing and was being used in education, health care, non-profits and government. (pictured right)

I made a failed attempt to interest a publisher or agent in the book in 2005, but in 2008 after selling several thousand books, I tried again. This time I was able to engage a wonderful agent who within a few weeks struck an incredible deal with Hay House, the biggest publisher of self-help books in the world.
The hardcover (pictured left) and e-book editions, released in 2010. By 12/30/11 the entire printing of the hardcover was sold out. The new soft cover version was released in 2012. (pictured right)

The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey has been translated into five other languages, titles may differ from the original. Foreign editions: French, Chinese, Dutch, German and Turkish.

Learn about the new sequel to The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey
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