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TTLT: What Authority Sounds Like

You’ll seldom hear a researcher as clear and compelling about the application of their expertise as Stanford psychologist Greg Walton.

This new episode of Shane Parrish’s “The Knowledge Project” podcast featuring Walton is a must-listen if you’re interested in turning your expertise into authority — into persuasive arguments and solutions about problems people care about.

Walton has extensively researched “stereotype threat” (how stereotypes about us shape our experiences and behavior, usually as negative, self-fulfilling prophecies) as well as “wise interventions,” small mindset and perspectival shifts that yield big benefits for relationships, parenting, and performance.

Just a few of the reasons Walton is so good on this podcast episode:

  1. He’s a great teacher: he explains concepts simply and elaborates on them clearly. Listen starting around 5:25 to his definition of stereotype threat, the realms to which it applies and why it works. He uses simple, memorable sentences that build on each other. (Example: how he begins talking about how stereotype threat works with the sentence “Belonging is the relationship between me and a place.”) Another way of putting this: Walton is messaged — he knows what he wants to say and how to explain it for non-specialists to comprehend them quickly.
  2. Walton is grounded in the literature — he turns studies into little narratives of discovery, and he ranges elegantly among them as he makes his points. Combined with his clarity of message, this sense that Walton has a library of relevant studies at his fingertips and can tell them in story form projects a kind of easy mastery. It’s a quality that quickly builds trust.
  3. But Walton doesn’t usually start with the research — he starts with its conclusions . For instance, listen starting around 10:40 to Walton on the research into how people with low-self esteem reject complements from their romantic partners. Unlike most researchers, he doesn’t begin immediately with the research he wants to cite; instead, he primes us with the idea how beliefs about the self can undermine relationships with romantic partners just as easily as they can undermine our relationships with the rest of the world. Walton’s consistent frame: My work is about the idea, not the science; about what the science means for our lives, which is expressed in the idea and how we can apply it in an intervention.
  4. Parrish is a great match for Walton because he’s all about mining research for knowledge to live a better life. So his questions set Walton up well to build persuasive applications out of his expertise.

Odds are you’ll finish the interview with a high level of trust in Walton and a high level of curiosity about wise interventions.

Trust and curiosity: two lockdown signs an authority’s been in the room.