How Not to Let the Grapevine Choke Your Organization

February 12, 2016 | Drew VanVooren
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Motown legend Marvin Gaye scored his first No. 1 hit with the song, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” back in 1968. The title of that song has lessons for business communications that are relevant today.

“I heard it through the grapevine” is a common phrase – in fact, hearing it on the streets of Chicago in the mid-’60s inspired the writer of that Motown hit. Every organization has a “grapevine,” an informal and often twisty channel on which information flows. When we hear things through the grapevine, we mean that we didn’t hear it directly from the source.

Not hearing information firsthand often has a bad result: the original message gets misinterpreted or not fully understood. Omitting a word here or there in the retelling can change the meaning 180 degrees – and that’s a real danger for critical messages. A grapevine also tends to filter messages through the biases of those on it. A funny illustration of this is in a scene from the 1984 comedy, “Johnny Dangerously.”


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