Book Review: The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey: How to Be Happy and Successful at Work and in Life by Simply Changing Your Mind

I was given the opportunity to review a new book that will be coming out, and I thought I’d break from the standard here and ask a friend of mine to help me out and write the review for me:


The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey: How to Be Happy and Successful at Work and in Life by Simply Changing Your Mind.  By Barbara Burke.  Northfield, MN: Front Wheel Learning, 2006; pp. 1+138.  $16.99 softcover.

Reviewed by Katherine Weinstein, Ph.D.

It’s no secret that customer service work poses its own special challenges on a very personal level.  Assisting disgruntled customers on a nearly daily basis can test and even dishearten the most positive and stalwart employee.  Barbara Burke’s The Napkin, the Melon and the Monkey provides both helpful advice to lift the emotional burdens of stressed employees and guidelines for better communication in the workplace.

Burke’s sage advice is packaged in the story of Olivia, a struggling customer service rep at a power company, and Isabel, the wise co-worker who takes her under her wing. Under Isabel’s guidance, Olivia learns to emotionally step back from stressful situations and have a SODA—Stop, Observe, Decide and Act. She begins by taking time every day to mentally “unplug,” and finds that the daily breaks help her to find calm in the middle of workplace turmoil.  Once Olivia is able to stop taking her customers’ angry outbursts personally and actually helps them, her life at work and at home takes a positive turn.

The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey is jam-packed with Olivia’s 22 “aha!” moments which are repeated over and over throughout the book.  These include nuggets of wisdom such as “A simple apology works wonders” and “Winners don’t just point out problems.  They fix them.”  According to the book’s cover, the author has a customer service training program that incorporates the lessons of the book.  You can almost see the Powerpoint presentation in your mind as you read along!

Burke’s book clearly has value as a tool to help employees communicate better with difficult customers and deal with the emotional stress of their jobs.  However, some of the books “aha!” revelations are of the pat variety you might find printed on an “inspirational” poster next to a picture of a waterfall—ie. “Real freedom comes from letting go of the outcome.”  The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey gives us a laundry list of such platitudes, but doesn’t always show how to apply these concepts in everyday life in a meaningful way.

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