By Derek James Hauk, Audience Development Coordinator for Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates

My name is Derek and I work with superheroes.

That may reek of hyperbole, but it’s the best summary of my day-to-day activities at Wicklander-Zulawski. I promote the activities of our instructors, who are distinguished, highly sought-after professionals in their fields. Many of them have histories in the military and public service. They quite literally stand for truth and justice, and regularly receive sincere expressions of gratitude for what they do. It’s like running The Avengers’ Facebook page.

I come from a varied background. That’s a nice way of saying I’ve had many disparate types of employment, from teaching to retail to copywriting. These are positions that have required varying amounts of direct conversation, but not structured investigative interviews. As a person who struggles with reading body language among other aspects of social interaction, the thought of conducting my own interview seemed far beyond me.

That’s why I found myself in a conference room during a Chicago snow storm, surrounded by professionals from some of the biggest companies in the world, opening my workbook to learn WZ Interview & Interrogation Techniques. In a room of loss prevention associates, human resource managers, and their counterparts, some of whom were new to their positions, some of whom were experienced interviewers already, I was a true blank slate. If I could be turned into an interviewer, just about anyone could.

There is a suitably low-key atmosphere to a WZ seminar. Participants are encouraged to mingle, network, and share their own stories. Interactivity is built into the structure of the training, allowing plenty of opportunities for participants to offer their input and concerns. In place of the self-serious lectures that all-too-many of my teacher institute trainings resembled, a WZ seminar is a guided discussion that recognizes the occasional absurdities of dealing with other people. The real-world video examples don’t just show memorable interview subjects, they also reveal missteps made by the WZ interviewers. Too often a presenter fears that appearing fallible will injure their credibility and invalidate their lesson, but in this seminar we acknowledge that even an experienced investigator is constantly learning and improving.

The first day covers the basics of interviewing, with a heavy emphasis on interpreting behavior. The refreshing part of this section of the discussion was the disavowal of “universal behaviors.” As a person who has trouble with cues and has been often misread, it was refreshing to me to hear someone wipe away the years of “crossing arms means this”, “eye movement means that”, “this posture says this.” Instead, every subject is treated as an individual with their own tics, their own manner of being. That may seem like an obvious way to do things, but we know that is not always the case. Empathy can often be seen as a radical thing, but it is built into the WZ model. In place of a zero-sum, win-lose approach, in our class we discussed both sides of the table leaving with their dignity (note: this is a metaphorical table, since before this we also learned how to properly stage a room and to avoid placing a table or desk in between yourself and the subject).

Walking through the case examples as a class felt like preparation for a real interview. The structure of the course and the presentation style really draws you in to the investigation and gives you a chance to put yourself in the room, just like a good real-crime show. We were allowed to go down the wrong path in some cases and think about how we could pull ourselves back. We became invested in each case for the short amount of time we spent in each one, and we were eager to hear the real-world outcomes. These cases then became shorthand for us when discussing other topics; we would ask if this approach would work with “scrapyard guy” or how this rationalization would be ideal for “the creepy elf.”

The full WZ Non-Confrontational Method was the focus of the second day. We took the time to break down each step, apply it to different examples, ask questions, and practice. It was clear to see improvements around the room over the course of the day during the roleplay sections. The connections from one step to the next and the thinking behind each one was where the training aspect was most beneficial. One of my tasks in the Wicklander-Zulawski office is to create and update PowerPoint presentations, so I have read through all the steps on multiple occasions. As we would tell an interview subject, I knew the what but I didn’t know the why. As we took the time to connect all the pieces, I could start to picture the flow of an interview, and while I still wouldn’t trust myself to run an investigation, I felt like I at least knew HOW it would be run. I was confident enough in what I had learned to describe the interview process to others.

The third day was the redesigned Practical Advanced Workshop, where that confidence could then be built upon with more hands-on activities. We worked as a group to complete a session on THE LINK, a simulated interview.  We broke into small groups to do a full mock-up of an interview planning sheet as well as other roleplaying and brainstorming activities. The advanced workshop is designed to refresh and refocus trainees whether they completed their last session one day or one decade before.

After three days of immersion in WZ interview and interrogation techniques, I walked away with two attractive completion certificates, workbooks filled with notes, and certitude that if I were a professional in the interview or investigation field, I would be stepping into the room set up for success. Watching the positive evaluations of my fellow classmates pour in, I can be confident that I was not the only one who felt that way. They all rave about the skills and tools that they came away with, but I received more than that. I gained a greater appreciation for the skillset of the speakers that I support and a greater commitment towards helping them do their part to make the world a better, more truthful place. That’s the true value of the WZ training. It makes you feel like you could be a superhero, too.