Displayed Authority

Displayed authority is any vehicle that communicates your authority that is not you. Third-party objects or people, for example.

Underlying Psychology/Biases

When someone communicates their own authority, they risk sounding biased. They may be exaggerated or lying. But when someone else (or an object) communicates the original person’s authority, they sound unbiased and fair (regardless of whether this is true or not). These sources are seen as more legitimate.


There are five usual formats:

  • Having another person introduce you
    • For example, speakers on stage;
    • It’s completely different to say, “I have ten years of experience in this” versus someone saying, “Welcome this person with ten years of experience in this”;
  • Having objects that communicate authority
    • For example, doctors with their diplomas on the office wall;
    • Any object works. Awards, trophies, accolades, prizes, diplomas, others;
  • Being associated with reputable people/institutions/elements
    • “I’m a student with a 4.0 GPA” versus “I’m a student with a 4.0 GPA from Harvard”;
    • Being associated with something of reputation communicates authority by itself;
  • Your appearance and image
    • Both in general, but also for specific contexts;
    • In general: Are you groomed, well-dressed, good-looking, fluent in your communication?
    • Specific contexts:
      • High-priced suits for high finance bankers or lawyers;
      • A clean, open look for real estate agents;
      • Tough and resilient looks for military/security personnel;
      • The white lab coat for scientists and medical doctors;
  • Your demeanor in terms of value

There are specific implementations of associations:

  • You can leverage voluntary associations yourself
    • You actively compare yourself to someone or something of high value just to establish an association;
    • “We’re the Johns Hopkins of Europe”;
    • “We’re the Harvard of the Midwest”;
  • A questionable, but effective technique is weaving
    • You interview or collate views from multiple experts, then insert your own point of view in it;
    • It’s not a bad technique if you disclose you’re not part of the group;
      • For example, Tim Ferriss collects the points of view of multiple experts and never claims to be involved in the group;
    • It can be used unethically if you claim to be one of the experts but are not, or just insert yourself in to give that impression;
  • Another variation is the halo effect
    • When you’re excellent at one thing, people assume that you are excellent at other things as well;
    • The reason why we have TV advertisements with football players recommending savings accounts;

Your image in specific also becomes important in terms of theaters

  • In certain situations, just having a specific appearance counts as authority;
    • In airport security (a “security theater”), TSA (or other agencies) have authority just by looking serious and assertive in that context;
    • In a doctor’s appointment, the doctor has more authority just by having the white lab coat;
    • These convey authority by themselves;

Naming and labeling fallacies can also be used to create displayed authority, namely the inclusion of scientific-sounding words.



  • The white lab coat
    • This is such a powerful symbol in terms of the theater created in a doctor’s appointment that many other service providers appropriate it (alternative medicine healers, “healthy store” clerks, etc);
  • Associations
    • Associating yourself with another institution, company or person of value, whether you’re better or worse than them, will make you always tied to them in people’s minds;
  • High status
    • Some people have displayed authority just by acting high status. This is why assholes get so many second chances;
    • If you just act assertive, with authority, and pressure others with your presence, others will assume you have authority;
  • “Atomic” or “Quantum”
    • There are several products that include “Atomic”, “Quantum”, “Exponential” or others in their names to make them seem more sophisticated and with more authority;
  • Quotes and Reports
    • When validating data, for example for a report, using third-party data instead of your own always seems more professional and unbiased;
  • Titles
    • Titles such as “Doctor”, “Master” and etc communicate authority by themselves;


  • Third-party bios
    • Many people write their bio as a speaker (or their LinkedIn intro, for example) in the third-person instead of the first;
    • In some cases, it can sound arrogant, but in most cases, it’s considered displayed authority, because it seems as if someone else is writing this for you;
  • Dressing up for court
    • When appearing in court, everyone tries to look as good as possible, including defendants in prison being out of their prison outfit and in a suit, being groomed;
    • This is because all of them aim to use their image to seem more persuasive or have more authority. Which works;
  • Setters and assistants
    • For famous consultants, you don’t book a call with them immediately. You go through a third-party, a “setter”;
    • They act as a gatekeeper who decides whether you’re good enough to take that person’s time or not;
    • The same for people that are not available themselves, but have assistants acting as the gatekeeper;
    • In this case, it’s not the consultant/executive showing how important they are, but a third-party doing it for them, which has a higher effect;

Commercial/Known Uses

  • Product names with “Quantum”, “Atomic”, “Exponential” in their names;

Key Takeaways

  • Displayed authority can be summarized as, “it’s not you, it’s them”. It’s having someone or something else communicate your authority for you;
  • It can be used in multiple formats, which all work. Associations, your image, testimonials, introductions, your demeanor, and so on;
  • Displayed authority is always implied. It never directly states that you have authority in something – it just suggests it. Which is why it can be used in a manipulative way;