Quantum physics and quarky behavior

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How do you explain some of the less acceptable aspects of human behavior? Personally I think the answer may lie in quantum physics, more specifically in the smallest of places; inside an atom.

We are, in essence, massive clouds of atoms that interact with each other on a physical and personal level. I describe these interactions as ‘quarkiness’. By taking time to understand the connections between ‘quarkiness’ and the way we communicate, we can start to repair some of the immense damage that has been done to motivation and performance at work.

Quantum physics is helping scientists to explain hitherto unknown properties of matter. Who knows where this will take us in the future, perhaps even into the realms of space and time. But for now quarks are fascinating, not only in their own right as the smallest constituent particles of matter, but by way of a metaphor when it comes to aspects of human behaviour that we don’t fully understand.

Quarks are incredibly small sub-subatomic particles; quarkiness concerns small, usually unintentional, sub-subconscious behaviours, mostly negative, which cumulatively have a corrosive effect on employee engagement and results.

We frequently hear about workplace issues concerning human rights, diversity, bullying, racism, child sexual exploitation, and the lack of equal opportunity for women. These are all examples of violations - the root of which lies in quarkiness.

The opportunity therefore lies in the spectrum of human behaviour at work, where we bombard each other with millions of tiny violations every single day.

In quantum physics, quarks are so tiny that they are almost impossible to see. In a team meeting, clouds of silent, covert messages are almost imperceptibly exchanged.

Those small, negative message clouds of quarky behaviour (strange quarks) have an adverse impact on the recipients, whereas the significantly less frequent positive micro-messages that we transmit (charms) have a hugely positive impact on the recipients.

In other words, we get a better return from the same amount of energy by being positive.

Strange quarks can be an eye roll, facial tic or a frown, an intake of breath, or a certain tone of voice; that feeling of being burdened with someone’s disapproval without knowing what happened to make you feel bad.

Have you recently experienced a situation where a small act of disrespect affected you for the rest of the day? I remember delivering an important presentation in which my performance was badly affected because of the way the CEO, sitting in the front row, was looking at me! How do you explain such a thing? By understanding the impact of strange quarks.

A single quarky act of disrespect is hardly felt, but cumulatively, because of the sheer volume of quarky behavior that we engage in, it can have the corrosive and damaging effect of a sandstorm upon the motivation and performance of teams.

Think about this; if quarky behaviour is driven by our reaction to people that have a different outlook to our own (resulting in semi-subconscious emissions of disapproval) what does this mean when the person is of a different colour, gender, religion or sexual preference? Quarkiness therefore has huge implications for the big workplace issues such as diversity and inclusion.

So how do we make ‘quarkiness’ work for us rather than against us?

1. Get the ‘language’ of quarkiness onto the corporate table. It then becomes significantly easier to confront it when it happens because it now has a name.

2. Appreciate the value of our roles as observer of quarky behaviour. It is a lot easier and less uncomfortable to bring this stuff to people’s attention from a third-party perspective.

3. Spread the word. Create discussion groups to share colleague understanding and experiences of quarky behaviour. Be prepared to deal with some strong feelings.

4. Gain commitment from team members to focus on reducing the level of strange quarks that they transmit to each other.

5. Focus on a positive shift to charms. By looking at quarky behaviour - even on the tiniest of levels - we can help improve team motivation and performance by feeding them positive, not negative, energy.

6. Small things can make a big difference. Consider and agree the value of small nods of approval, appreciative smiles, congratulatory high-fives and other affirmations. They cost (almost) nothing, require minimal energy, and yet have such a positive and energising impact on others.

We live in a time when exciting breakthroughs in quantum physics may even challenge accepted thinking about the behaviour of matter. It would not surprise me if Einstein’s theory of relativity were successfully challenged. We certainly need to challenge our current thinking regarding human behaviour and how we communicate. Could quarkiness provide the breakthrough?

The language of ‘quarkiness’ is universal. It transcends gender, race, language, and culture. Who would have thought that quantum physics could provide us with the answers we need?

About The Author

Kieran Hearty
Kieran Hearty

Kieran Hearty (igiveu.co.uk) is an executive coach, consultant and leadership speaker with over 30 years’ experience across international technology and financial services companies. He is also the author of How to Eat the Elephant in the Room, a book that reminds us about some of the truths of leadership that often get forgotten.