Author: Sophie Moore
Webamp spoke to Felicity Wingrove, managing director of Zen Communications, master of language and PR wizard about doing the right thing, the power of communication and the magic that can occur when you listen to your inner voice.
Felicity always assumed she would be a speech writer, growing up engrossed in the speeches of people such as Martin Luther King Jr and Winston Churchill when her peers had their noses within the pages of More Magazine. She spent her time trying to work out how these influential figures had not just changed their world but THE world through the simplest act of carefully selecting their words. She studied English Language Linguistics at University and upon graduating found herself working for a PR agency, embarking on a 22 year long career (so far) in the PR world. She has continued her studies alongside her career, obtaining a slew of qualifications in a variety of fields including neuro-linguistic programming, behavioural psychology, and psycholinguistics. Felicity launched her own agency thirteen years ago after becoming increasingly frustrated with a two dimensional way of doing things in the world of public relations.
“I wanted to do things differently and bring in the appreciation for the power of language that is missing from traditional PR.”
Fed up with things always being based around competition between the two sides rather than collaboration, Felicity always felt there was never a true partnership between agencies and their clients. People told her she was too idealistic, that it sounded great on a greetings card but it would never work in real life. Yet she had this idea that PR should be about genuine partnerships, where you can have honest conversations and remove the combative competition with the client. You can achieve so much more when you're not afraid of failing. Zen Communications was born from a yearning to sit in integrity, to do the right thing for the right reasons even if no one’s watching, a personal mantra that Felicity has lived by since childhood. She built her own agency where she could really partner with her clients, where she absolutely cared about them and where she could become embedded in their businesses. For her it wasn’t about being a cheerleader, it was about being a bodyguard. Magic happens when your clients trust you and you have built a relationship that allows the client to be vulnerable. The foundations of Zen are built upon a desire to empower others, to help people and organisations to communicate with mastery.
“When you communicate with absolute mastery, you’re standing in your power, you're standing in your authenticity. It’s a beautiful gift to give someone- the ability to fully understand and be understood.”
Most of the issues in our world come from miscommunication. The whole process of communication is a minefield littered with all sorts of challenges to be overcome.
We have to overcome our own individual view of the world, the sunglasses through which we see everything and that's ever changing. It's changed by your nutrition, the things you’ve seen on television, whether you’ve studied, what you’ve studied and the life experiences you have.
“As a master communicator, my role is to pick up on that, to notice cues and adapt and flex the descriptors that I use. I can do that using all sorts of tools and tactics and models that I know. By teaching business owners, and leaders in particular how to do exactly the same, I’m giving them and their teams the ability to feel that wonderful sensation of mastery of communication.”
Being clear on what you want to say and how you want to say it is the cornerstone of successful communication. Communicating clearly and effectively is about more than stringing words together to form a sentence. It’s about making everyone feel held by the message that you're giving them. Felicity’s driver is helping the people she works with be curious about their communication. It isn't just what we were taught in school. It's not prescribed rules and communicating in a way that is correct, it's an entire suite of tools and tactics that can be deployed deliberately to achieve specific aims and create emotional connection.
The way we communicate is ever changing, ever evolving as the world we live in. It can take a while for us all to catch up. The lives of our parents and their parents and their parents before that looked very different to the world we live in today, and so the ways in which we live, work and communicate must be adjusted accordingly. The rulebooks that worked for them no longer apply to us. Felicity calls herself a renowned rule breaker. Not in the legal sense, rest assured but in a sense of striving for more, for better, for change. She actively chooses to go against the status quo in favour of fuelling her curiosity, intellectually and psychologically. This wasn’t always the case. It’s something she has learnt to do, a muscle she has strengthened over time.
“When I started my career I always did what I thought I needed to do and I didn't always listen to my inner voice. If I'm really honest I knew before I even joined the national agency that the traditional PR world wasn't for me. I needed to do something differently.”
Her advice to those at the beginning of their journey : listen and act on your internal voice. Recognise what is completely non negotiable for you and chase it, otherwise you’re going to end up feeling like you're selling your soul to Satan doing a job that makes you feel the need to shower every time you come home from work. That voice inside of you asking for more, asking for better, the one you keep hushing and ignoring? Listen to it and it will lead you to great things. It worked for Felicity.
Each work day begins with selecting three things to get done by the end of the day. Not by checking her emails or jumping straight into meetings. Felicity sits down and looks at what SHE needs to do, not what someone else needs her to do. As a woman this is a very important boundary to set, what with a tendency to look back at the end of the day and feel unsatisfied with what has been achieved despite the fact of having an unrealistic pile to begin with. Three things keeps it manageable, realistic and within the boundaries of how much work should be done in a day. It helps to keep the balance between work and home life, one that, in the world of COVID-19 is ever difficult to juggle. More than ever, we have to be clear on when we’re working and when we’re not, else the lines will blur and boundaries will be broken down completely. This year has seen us moving the workplace into the spaces in which we cook, eat, sleep and relax with little time for prior planning. This shift has been difficult for us all, Felicity’s team at Zen included. Changes had to be made and so she made the swift move to abolish the concept of the working week as the UK found itself in its initial lockdown. Monday to Friday was no more, there were no set requirements to work from 9-5. Her workforce was left with the freedom to adapt their work day to suit them and their families’ needs as the world around them was turned upside down. This is just one example of the kind of leadership that Felicity embodies as managing director, building a workplace that exudes a positive company culture.
“We’re so proud of our culture. We have thrown everything in terms of heart and soul at the culture. Our values are on the wall but they're not just on the wall. We live and breathe them. We introduce them to things like personal development plans, we talk about how they are embodying our core values such as collaboration, asking them to recall a time they have truly collaborated with others and that's what they get their pay rise on, that's what they get their promotion for, is truly living the values.”
A challenge every company faces when developing its culture is ensuring that their values don't just exist on a plaque on the wall. Culture can be well meaning but it’s all too easy to get swept up in making everything sound and look pretty. You can come up with beautiful images and beautiful words to embody the company culture but without a clear understanding within the workforce of how this translates into working life, it’s all just words and pictures plastered on the wall. As human beings we tend to believe that the way we see the world is how everyone else does as well. According to Felicity, a way we can get past this is ensuring that the culture is explained using all four communication styles, using 4mat. This technique works on the basis that there are how, what, why and what if people among us. Why people want a one liner, the purpose statement with all of the juice in that one line. What people want the chunky paragraph underneath, a bit more context. How people want 4-5 bullet points breaking down the specifics. What if people want to know what happens if it's raining or if it happens on a tuesday. This is where most businesses make mistakes, they put too much emphasis on the overarching statement and don’t take the time to break it down in a way that ensures each employee understands.
“The biggest challenge that businesses have from a culture perspective is to communicate that culture in a way that resounds with their team and that their team can take ownership of and move it away from something on the wall and towards something that exists in real life.”
When your employees can take ownership of the fact that they are truly a part of the company, that they are a part of building a positive working environment, everything else becomes easier. Communicating clearly in a way everyone can understand is a magical power that should be invested in more.
Speaking of investments, Felicity is a strong believer in the importance of investing in yourself. An advocate for lifelong learning, growth is a personal value of hers that she takes very seriously. So seriously in fact that she and her partner could be mortgage free right now if it weren’t for their hunger to learn and deepen their knowledge. It’s an investment they will never regret. For Felicity this hunger for learning is spurred on by her sense of curiosity, the urge to ask questions and find the answers to them. She has actively sought out people who are an expert in what they do and she’s learned everything she can from them. This is a quest she will feel is never complete : “The more I learn the more I realise there are more questions.” In a world that tells you that if you go to school, get good grades, go to university and get a degree under your belt, you will have everything you need to start your career, it’s certainly refreshing to come across someone who openly admits they will never have all the answers. Someone who actively seeks opportunities to ask more questions. What's more inspiring still is that she is consciously passing this curiosity onto her children, leaving a legacy behind in the form of an appreciation for learning that so few people have nowadays. Kids don’t do what we say, they do as we do. In modelling them for curiosity and lifelong learning, you give them a hunger for developing themselves that will benefit them in every aspect of their lives. Recounting a conversation with her five year old son on the walk to school, Felicity stresses the impact of this narrative. He explained that he found learning hard work and asked if they could go home instead, that she didn't want to go to work just as he didn't want to go to school.
Her response was this: “I do want to go to work, it's such a privilege to be able to go there. I've worked hard to be brilliant at what I do and I get to do it for a living. If you go to school and you study hard you can empower yourself not just to get a job but to follow your calling, to find your place in the world, to be whoever and whatever you want to be. But you can't do that unless you've got this learning behind you, you need these tools to do it.”
A small breadcrumb of the lessons she hopes to teach her children and one that emphasises the power mindset can have over your day to day existence. Shifting the narrative from ‘having’ to go to work to ‘getting’ to go to work really brings home the impact of the words we choose to communicate with. Using the word “have” is binary, it’s closed. “Get” triggers curiosity, it prompts you to process gratitude for even the smallest of things and suddenly putting on a load of washing becomes something to be grateful for, in the knowledge that you have beautiful clothes and you get to wear them. If there’s one thing that 2020 has prompted any of us to do, it's to appreciate what we have. To appreciate the people we see, the homes we live in, the work we do, the lessons we hope to teach our children. It seems as though Felicity embodies this mindset of gratitude and curiosity in all that she does. We should all be more like Felicity.
We’d like to thank Felicity for all her invaluable insights into the power of communication. To keep up with her work visit zen-communications.co.uk, connect with her on LinkedIn or like the company page.