crime podcast

Podcast interview: Interrogation/interview techniques with David Zulawski

My fourth ‘People Who Read People’ podcast episode is an interview with David Zulawski, an expert in interrogation and interview techniques. Zulawski is the cofounder of Wicklander Zulawski and Associates, a company that consults and trains people on interrogation and interviewing. Before starting that business in 1982, he worked in several law enforcement and investigative positions; he’s been a licensed polygraph examiner, a licensed private investigator, and a certified fraud examiner.

Links to the show on different platforms (some stuff we talked about is below that):

Zulawski and Wicklander wrote a book on interrogation techniques that is very respected in the law enforcement and private loss prevention industries: Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation. Here’s the Amazon link for that book. Before interviewing David, I read that book, and I highly recommend it. There are a lot of great concepts that I think would apply to all people-focused endeavors, including management and negotiation.

Some things we talk about in this podcast:

  • Why is the non-confrontation, rapport-focused interrogation technique W-Z recommends the best approach?
  • Why is it important to downplay the significance of the crime or incident? What are some approaches for doing that?
  • Why is it important to try to prevent a suspect from making denials? Why does having a suspect make denials make an interrogator’s job more difficult?
  • Why is it important to not tell a suspect all the evidence you have against them?
  • What are some behavioral clues a suspect is lying or telling the truth?
  • What are some crossovers from interrogation behavioral patterns to poker tells?
  • How does the non-confrontational approach help prevent false confessions?


Zach Elwood: Hi, David, thanks for coming. 

David Zulawski: Thanks. Glad to be here. 

Zach: Very honored to have you on here, and we’ll get right into the questions here. I know that your book on interrogations and interviews is highly respected in the field and that you do a lot of training of law enforcement and private companies. Can you talk a little bit about how popular and widely read your books and theories are, and maybe how they’re assigned to various classes and groups? 

David: Well, with our seminars, we’ve done over 200,000 participants going through the seminars. All of them get an outline book, which is a shortened version of the actual textbook. The textbook itself is one of the highest selling of CRC Press on interview and interrogation. Plus it’s also used in a number of college classes for audit and investigation around the country.

Zach: And private companies too might buy it to train their loss prevention staff too? 

David: Oh, yeah. Very often, they’ll incorporate that as part of the seminar that they retain us to present on the interview and interrogation process. 

Zach: So, a very respected book. That was my initial understanding from reading about it, and sounds like you get read by a lot of people. Your theories are being consumed by a lot of people. When people think of interrogation, a lot of people probably think of angry or forceful questioning and the kinds of techniques they see in movies and TV shows. Can you talk a little bit about how your approach and how it differs from those kinds of interrogation techniques people have in their mind from watching media?

David: The things that you see on TV are not how it’s done in real life. Makes for good TV, makes for good drama, but in terms of being legal and being effective, those approaches aren’t effective at all. The approach that we use is very much a rapport-based approach. If you think about what you see on TV, it’s basically conflict. You have the interrogator trying to get the suspect to tell the truth and it’s the two of them against each other. What we do is a much more rapport-based focus where we engage the person in the conversation and make it a safe place to offer up the truth, rather than the conflict that you see in a TV show or the movies.

Zach: Right. Makes sense because one of your big philosophies is that you’re making it comfortable for them, not in a non-judgmental because the ultimate goal is to get them to start giving you rationalizations of why they did that, and you can’t get those rationalizations and excuses for why they did that if they feel a big adversar—

David: I mean, if somebody’s going to tell you the truth about something that they’ve done wrong, it really revolves to a large extent about the issue of trust between the interviewer and the subject. And if there’s no trust, generally, there’s not going to be any admissions or communications. And if there are, it’s going to be very difficult to get those from the individual.

Zach: I was just curious, are there any shows or movies that you feel really showed a realistic depiction of how these kinds of interrogations are done? A good interrogation is done these days—

David: Because of the time constraints of a movie or a TV show, these things don’t happen with three or four sentences and all of a sudden the person confesses. It happens once in a while, but those are few and far between. Most of the time, it takes time to position the conversation in a way that makes it okay for the person to feel that he can tell the truth about what he’s done. And that’s not something that makes good TV. 

Zach: Right. Yeah, one thing that struck me reading your book was just how many different situational factors you go into. And it was obvious to me that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all the different factors that can be present, whether it’s the factors that a person’s background, a suspect’s background, the room and how the room is laid out, and how you’re perceived by the suspect like taking off some intimidating items of clothing or hiding plaques on the wall that are about reminding them of punishment. It was just very interesting seeing that you had obviously taken into account all these factors and recognized that there’s no two situations alike and there could be a lot of factors at play. 

David: Yeah, exactly. And to a large extent, that’s part of the preparation and pre-planning to understand the individual, their lifestyle, how they make choices, what’s important in their lives. How have they acted in the past in situations where they’ve been confronted? How do they handle conflict in their lives? All those things help you prepare and plan a course of action for the conversation.

Zach: Yeah, that was one of the more interesting ones when you’re trying to predict how someone will react when you accuse them of something. The most important information to have is how they have reacted in similar situations in the past, whether it’s a previous employer or teacher or something. That’s going to give you a clue to the suspect’s approach to how they’re going to come back at you. 

David: Yeah, and that’s pretty typical for most people, is that we have a strategy of how we do things, either because it’s worked for us in the past or because we can’t think of any other way to do it. And so when it comes time to use something, we go back to what we’ve done in the past and try to reuse it. And if you can anticipate it, then you can make a determination– is it helping the interview to be successful or do I need to get them to try something else?

Zach: One of your key concepts is that you should be vague. The interrogator should be vague about presenting incriminating evidence early in an interrogation. And you say this is one of the biggest mistakes interrogators make when they are laying out their evidence on the table way too early. Can you talk a little bit about some of the weaknesses of that approach and why the there can be strengths and not showing that evidence immediately?

David: The first inclination of an interrogator, especially somebody who’s relatively new, is “Let me show you my evidence and you’ll be convinced that I know you’ve done this. And then you’ll make an admission.” The trouble with most of the cases that are developed is that they’re circumstantial in nature. So if you’re going to, for example, confront a burglar, and you were going to go in and tell him, “Look here, I know what you did. You came in the screen door and you grabbed the TV and you went out the screen door.” Well, we’ve got a point event entrance and the doors left open, so that makes sense. Except what he really did was he came in through a bedroom window, closed the bedroom window, unlocked it, and left through the screen door. So, basically what you’ve told him is you don’t know. And as soon as you make a mistake based on an assumption of what that evidence actually means, you’re doing several things. One, is you’re telling them what you know and what else possibly you could know. So you may be limiting the admission that you’re going to get. The other thing is that if you’re making assumptions about the evidence or you mistake the evidence, they now don’t believe what you’re telling them. They think you may be lying to them and now distrust comes into place and resistance goes up. So it’s important, in general, to be– in my estimation, anyway– in most cases, to be somewhat vague about the presentation of the evidence. Because it allows them to fit the details that they know to be true in that vagueness, and so the communication is much more convincing that way.

Zach: Yeah, leaves more to their imagination because you’re speaking about vague evidence and they’re taking what they know is true and thinking, “Oh, they might know all these things,” but they’re not sure and they can’t see the flaws in the evidence. Yeah. 

David: Exactly. 

Zach: Right, it makes sense. That was a really interesting section. The other big part of it was that you want to have secrets that you hold back to confirm whether that suspect’s being true later. So just to rule out that they’re being weird or giving a false confession, you want to have some things held back. 

David: Yeah, that’s absolutely critical. Because at the end of the day, what you want is the individual confirming what you know from the investigation, rather than you telling about it. I mean, if you went in and showed a picture of the crime scene with the dead body lying there, and later they tell you, “Well, the body was on its back, the right arm was extended, and there was a liquor bottle next to his head.” Did that come from the picture? Or did that come from his memory? And you just don’t know. So what you’d prefer to have him do is to describe the crime scene, and have it match up to the crime scene that you actually hit. And typically, in most police investigations, there’s evidence that’s withheld that only the guilty party would know. And that helps establish the the truthfulness of the individual’s admissions.

Zach: One interesting psychological detail to me were the strategies about removing reminders of the seriousness of their crime or their possible punishment. For example, taking plaques about arrests off the wall or taking off your handcuffs. Can you talk about some examples of that strategy and how it fits into the more rapport-based approach?

David: I think about when I was a kid and my mother would say, “David, did you break the lamp? If you broke that lamp, I’m going to ground you for two weeks. Did you break the lamp?” “No,” because I don’t want to be grounded for two weeks. So basically, when a person is going to make an admission, they’re kind of… “Can I save face here? Is there a way that I can minimize the amount of trouble that I’m in?” And so if you’re offering somebody a statement attached to punishment, the consequences are right in their face. So it would be, you know, “This is a class X felony that’s punishable by 20 to 30 years in prison. Did you do it?” Now all of a sudden, what have you done? You’ve put the consequence. I could expect to spend the next 20 to 30 years in jail. And it’s right on the top of the list of things that they’re thinking about. So, trying to avoid talking about consequences and what’s going to happen after the fact is something that makes it easier for the person to be forthcoming.

Zach: Yeah. That leads me into good lead into this next question, which is, some of the stuff I found most interesting in the book was your strategies for reducing the chances a suspect would make denials. For example, you talked about earlier in an interview, if a suspect starts to make a denial, you might say something like, “It’s much better to stay silent than to lie.” Can you talk a little bit about how effective that is, and how that fits into the overall strategy of trying to reduce those denials?

David: What you’re talking about there generally would occur in a confrontational interrogation, where the interrogators trying to gain admission has made a direct accusation. “You did this,” whatever the crime was, and then they get a denial. Now they’re going to repeatedly return to that denial. And so that would be a way of trying to get them to stop denying so they listen to the rationalizations. Our preferred approach is to avoid getting any denials in the first place. You don’t directly accuse anybody of a particular crime, you don’t make statements that we call them ‘you statements.’ “You did this. You’re having financial problems…” Things that the person has to defend themselves against. We generally talk in the third person– people, they, them, others, rather than the ‘you’ type of a question. And it’s much easier to avoid having the person start the cycle of denials when you handle it in that fashion. 

Zach: Right, and make it clear, the reason you don’t want denials is because when somebody starts to deny something, it sets up in their mind a confrontational kind of thing because they not only have to defend themselves about the crime, but then they know that they’ve told a lie but with a denial. So it sets up another thing that they’re defensive about and just increases the, you know, it’s the opposite of building rapport and you’re creating a more oppositional emotion there. Is that basically summarizing it pretty well?

David: Yeah, it really revolves around the idea of commitment. People want to… How do I see this in a clear way? They want to have a consistency in their decision making, their personality, and in their life. And so once you commit to something– so if you say, “I’m a Republican,” “I’m a Democrat,” “I’m an independent,” it’s very rare that you can go to a party and have a conversation and a Democrat becomes a Republican. Just as in the same way that if you’re talking about religion, Catholics don’t all of a sudden become Muslims. Because they’re committed to a particular course of action and that’s who they are. So, if somebody says to you, “I didn’t do it,” in order to be consistent, they have to maintain that denial of involvement. And if they can’t do that, it creates a difficulty in internal equilibrium, and generally, a change in emotions. 

Zach: Makes sense. Another key strategy you talk about is downplaying the seriousness of the incident or the crime, and offering the suspect rationalizations for why the incident happened. Can you give an example or two of the kinds of justifications that you know more that can commonly help suspects save face and interrogations in that way? 

David: Sure. Most people. Well, everybody. Humans are rationalizers. It’s part and parcel of who we are. “I’m trying to lose weight. I didn’t have breakfast; I can have a piece of cake at lunch though.” “It’s okay to drive eight miles an hour over the speed limit because most police officers don’t start writing tickets until 10 miles an hour over the speed limit.” “It’s okay for me to take a pen from the office because I do a lot of work home. But I shouldn’t touch the merchandise or the money. That’d be okay for me to take pens for the kids because I’m doing a lot of work and maybe some paper for the kids, but I can’t touch the merchandise.” “Well, it’d be okay to take the merchandise as long as I stay away from the cash.” “It would be okay to take the cash, as long as I don’t take it out of the safe.” “It’ll be okay to take it out of the safe as long as I don’t take the whole day’s deposit.” “It’d be okay to take the whole day’s deposit, as long as I don’t use a gun.” “It’s okay to use a gun as long as I don’t shoot anybody.” “It’s okay to shoot somebody as long as I don’t kill him.” 

So, everybody can rationalize a certain level of behavior. And generally, they don’t do something that they can’t rationalize. Not every burglar is a rapist. Some burglars are rapists. Some burglars just want to take your TV. So, they have to rationalize. What the interrogator does is offers back rationalizations that don’t change the culpability of the crime, but just mitigate it. So, “You took the money on impulse because it was just sitting there and the safe was open,” versus “You planned it out.” Or, “You took the money, but you used the money to pay bills and take care your family.” It doesn’t change the fact that you took the money you stole from the employer, all it does is offers a face-saving device that doesn’t change the culpability for the crime. 

Zach: Yeah, I really liked the section in there where you talked about getting more physical-based reads when you were giving them various rationalizations and seeing which ones might connect to the suspect and watching them look kind of standoffish and kind of mocking when you would say something that they did not agree with, but then you could get a physical read when they looked more engaged when you would name things that they related to more. I thought that was interesting.

David: Yeah, and that’s the same thing that you would do in an ordinary conversation. Somebody’s bored with your conversation, they’re giving you clues that, “I’d like you to change the topic, or I’d like to get out of here.” Or, “I’m very engaged with what you have,” and their behaviors and their attitudes change. And so the rationalization is really the engine that drives the whole rapport-based approach to the interrogation. If you’re not using that, then you’re asking for a multitude of admissions. “I did it. I’m a liar. I’m a drug dealer. I’m a bad person.” And every one of those that you add on makes it more difficult for somebody to tell you the truth. So, the justification process allows them not to change the elements of the crime, not to change the fact that they did it, but just to offer them some face saving devices so they can preserve their self-image.

Zach: One thing I hadn’t previously understood was that you only have to read the Miranda if you’re placing someone under arrest or confining them. If that understanding is correct, if you’re having a conversation where the suspect is free to go and no Miranda is needed, does this create an incentive for police, in some cases, to hold off on arresting someone and just focus on talking to them more informally so they don’t have to do the whole Miranda warning thing?

David: Well, a couple of things about Miranda that are important to understand. First of all, it applies only to law enforcement. It doesn’t apply to the private sector. It has to be public law enforcement. The person, second, has to be in custody. And third, the police officer has to be asking questions. Those are the three components of Miranda. Now, in some situations– and the real tricky one is, is the person in custody? And this is a whole area of the legal system. It depends on the totality of the circumstances. How many officers are there? Is the person handcuffed? Are they locked in a room? What kinds of questions are being asked? So there’s that. Custody issue can be a real tricky one. Generally when police officers are going to do an interview, it’s going to be non-custodial. They’re not going to read Miranda. What they’re looking for there is looking for the individuals alibi, explanations for certain evidence, other situations. At some point, that non-custodial may become custodial. And this is where the tricky part is. Is the person taken into custody right after the fact? Now if you have somebody who’s, for example, doing some kind of a fraud and the police are talking to them, there’s really no reason to take them into custody right at that moment. You simply inform them that you want to ask them questions about some documents, what’s their explanation for these, you’re free to go at any time… And you get the conversation. At the end of the conversation, you thank them for the time and they go on their way. And if the case warrants it, then you go get an arrest warrant, search warrants, whatever else you need, and you come back and make the arrest. Then Miranda goes into play at that point. A lot of times, it’s really more of an interview upfront to get the person’s alibi or explanation for things, rather than it is to necessarily get a confession from them.

Zach: Gotcha. Yeah. One big question I had when I was reading the book, and it’s probably a common question from a lot of people, why do people talk so much at all? Because it seems like the smart decision for almost everyone would be to immediately ask for a lawyer and just shut up. And you would think most people these days would have watched enough TV and movies to know that that is perceived as the best strategy. I was wondering why is there still so much talking. And maybe there’s less talking than there used to be. Do you see it changing over time based on people being more aware of how these things play out?

David: Well, it’s interesting. I think people have a need to talk. Keeping a secret is a real difficult thing. Whether it’s a secret about a friend, somebody always wants to tell it. We had an officer who was investigating a homicide. Two people went to a trailer, they were going to do a drug rip off, and they shot and killed the two people in the trailer. And then they went to a party afterwards and told everybody what they’d done. Now, that makes no sense at all. But that’s what they did. The idea of keeping a secret is really difficult. The other thing, and this is some fairly recent research that had come out is, what a person who has done something’s wrong strategy actually is. So, what’s your plan? If the cops pick me up or loss prevention picks me up, what am I going to do? And about 20% of the folks said, “I’m going to just deny it. I’m going to deny, deny, deny, deny. That’s all I’m going to do.” Now, this group tends to be the most difficult to get to confess because they’ve already made a commitment to a course of action. Here’s what I’m going to do. And so this is the group that says, “I want a lawyer. I don’t want to talk to you. Let me go. You’re going to let me go otherwise I’m not talking.” But there’s about 80% of the folks– and, to me, the numbers were really surprising. About a third of the people said, “I plan to come in and tell the truth. If I was ever asked about this, I’m going to tell the truth.” So, that means about a third of the people who’ve done something wrong are predisposed to confess and have already thought that’s my course of action if push ever comes to shove on this. And then there’s about the remaining 50% are, “Well, I’m going to kind of see what they do. How they treat me, what kind of evidence they’ve got, or what kind of evidence I think they have, and make my decision from there.” 

That means that an interrogator, if he doesn’t make many mistakes, has a chance to influence about 80% of the people to go ahead and admit their misdeeds. And then there’s probably a little bit more that you can chip away at that 20% that was going to deny till they die. But people, I think, actually decide probably… Well, for sure, the number one reason is they think they’re caught. So when we sat down after our interrogations and said, “Why did you talk to us?” About 55% of the people said, “I thought you had me. I thought you knew.” So if you thought I knew, and I could prove it, it’s okay to talk about it now. It’s not a secret any longer. And then about 70% of the people put a spin on it. They wanted to preserve their self-image. So they would put it, “Well, he came at me first.” “Well, I might have rubbed up against her.” “Well, I, used the money to buy milk for the babies.” “I felt guilty about this.” And so about three quarters of the people who are ultimately going to tell the truth wanted to preserve that self-image. So from the standpoint of being an interrogator, if you’re going to get admissions, you’ve got to convince them that they’re caught without presenting evidence as we talked about before. And the second thing is that you’ve got to offer an opportunity for that person to preserve their self-image. That they’re not a bad person, they simply made a bad choice.

Zach: It makes me think of when you talked about the initial strategies of interviewing them and not going straight into accusations because going straight into accusations without building rapport and doing rationalizations, they’re hardly ever going to confess. Because they not only have to confess to the incident of the crime, but they also have to confess to just being a horrible person because you haven’t given that chance to make those rationalizations yet. I thought that was really powerful point too. Okay, let’s talk about some specific behavior patterns. I know you wrote about quite a few in the book. I was wondering if you could give just a few of the ones you thought were most important and most reliable when it comes to interrogating guilty suspects.

David: Sure. The answer is to look at it in terms of the interview versus the interrogation. To kind of define those terms, interview is basically a fact gathering process, it’s where the individual does the majority of the talking. The interviewer is generally leading it by asking a few questions, but the questions tend to focus on narrative responses from the individual. So it’s getting their alibi, the sequence of events, explanations, it could be a process that you are interested in an investigation. But it’s basically just understanding the facts surrounding the case. In an interrogation, it’s really a change in purpose. And the purpose is to obtain an admission of wrongdoing. And the dynamics of the two are very different, and the behavioral cues and how you use them is very, very different. A lot of people today don’t use the term interrogation. They just say we’re going to interview the person.

Primarily because of the stigma around interrogation sounds like waterboarding. It’s what they’ve seen on TV, as you mentioned before, the yelling and the screaming and all that. It’s just a word. And to me, the two words just help you understand where the conversation is. So on the one hand, you’re gathering facts. On the other other hand, when you use interrogation, you’re looking for an admission of wrongdoing and culpability to the crime. The words are just words. I mean, you could use apple and orange. It’s the same thing. 

Zach: Right. Yeah, and we should point out, too, that an interview can morph into an interrogation. It won’t always, but they can both be present in the same talk. 

David: Yes, exactly. Exactly. Now in the interview process, the interviewer is essentially gathering the facts, but he’s also making an assessment of, is the person truthful or are they uncooperative? Now, we don’t necessarily know when somebody is uncooperative if they’re lying, or they just don’t like the process, they don’t like the interviewer. There could be a lot of reasons. But basically, when you look at– and obviously, very generalized here, much like in your books. You know, one thing doesn’t always mean the same thing at the same time. 

Zach: Yeah. We struggle to write about because you have to [crosstalk] 

David: Yeah. Because on the one hand, you’ll get a bluffer who will do something in a card game when they’re actually bluffing, and they may do the same thing when they’ve got the hand they want. So, it’s very difficult. And that’s part of the process, is to make an assessment of the individual versus in terms of the context of the conversation, looking at what do most folks do in this given situation? So that you’re discriminating to, what do most truth tellers do? And what do most deceivers do? And then you’re looking at the individual themselves. What’s their norm and their behavioral norm? So on the one hand, if you looked at… Well, let’s take a police officer doing a traffic stop. Person is going 10 miles an hour over the speed limit. They walk up, they ask for the license, insurance, inform them what they’ve done, then they’re going to go back and they’re going to check the driver’s license to make sure it’s okay, the insurance is okay, there’s no warrants. As they’re doing that, they now come back up and they hand the driver who’s only done a speeding ticket his ticket and they assess his behavior. Now, normally, you’re not happy that you got a ticket, but there’s not a lot of apprehension. But if he walks back up and that driver is nervous, they’re fidgeting, they won’t make eye contact, what that tells the officer is there’s something wrong here. I don’t know what it is at this point. Could be there’s a gun in the car, it could be that there is drugs in the vehicle. But there’s something wrong. Ask some more questions. And that’s when the next statements are made. “Okay? Would you step out of the car? Let’s bring a drug dog in.” 

And the difference is that you and I who’s got a ticket for $10 we’re not happy because it’s going to cost us some money, but our license is fine, our insurance is present, we’re not needing any warrants out… This is over. It’s kind of like going to the dentist. Once they say, “No cavities,” huh, my nervousness is done. But the guy who’s got something to hide, he goes, “I got a warrant and I got a gun in the car.” He’s got apprehension and his behavior reacts differently. So if you look at the population as a whole, in terms of traffic stops, here’s something that doesn’t look right and that says, “Ask more questions.” In an interview, we’re looking for things that would tell us to ask more questions. There’s something that doesn’t seem right here. It could be innocent or it could be not.

Zach: Yeah, you’re seeing suspicious things and you want to dig into it more and see what is the cause for this suspicious thing? Maybe it’s completely innocent—

David: And as you point out in your books, there’s no single behavior that always means somebody’s telling you the truth or lying to you. And so it’s the investigator– or in your situation, the poker player– who’s got to make the decision based on the consistency of the behaviors, the context in which they’re made, and looking at what do most players do in this situation? And then also, what does this individual person do? 

Zach: Yeah, that works as a balance of many things to then try to make the best decision and then still know you might be wrong. But I sometimes hear people criticizing these kinds of approaches for law enforcement, but to me, it’s like, as long as it’s being done– like in your approaches where it’s non-confrontational and you’re just using things you find to keep researching– it doesn’t seem like it’s violating these people’s rights by asking them questions and trying to dig in when you see things that are weird. So I definitely don’t see the problem when these kinds of interrogations are done in an ethical way like your approach obviously recommends. I definitely don’t see a problem. Because at the end of the day, you’re just researching things you see that are interesting and trying to dig into those interesting spots. 

David: And this is the same thing you do in a conversation. If you’re having a conversation and you see the person kind of hesitant and their eyes are kind of shaking and they’re shaking their head a little bit, you might say, “It seems like you don’t agree.” You saw behavior that wasn’t consistent with agreement, so let’s ask what that might have been about. To me, the newscasters who have experts come on TV and say, “Oh, he shook his head. No, he’s lying.” I think that’s a real stretch. 

Zach: Yeah, I don’t like those guys. 

David: Anybody who reads it, you don’t know. You’ve got one camera angle and you’re doing it on the fly. And I think that’s probably a bigger misservice. 

Zach: Yeah, I could go on and awhile about those guys who go on TV and try to analyze those one-off spots. They’re usually doing it in spots where they pretty much know what the meaning is or what the underlying situation is just to make themselves look better because they know it’s likely that their interpretation lines up with what we’ll actually find out was the truth. So, yeah, I’m pretty skeptical about all those guys. 

David: Yeah, it’s always easier after the fact when you know everything to go back and say, “Well, look at that. That’s what that meant.” And then you can probably do that with some accuracy because you know what the answer to the puzzle is? 

Zach: Well, yeah, the most recent one was with the Chris Watts thing, where after it was clear and he got taken into custody and it was clear he had probably done those crimes– the murders of his family– and then I saw a few body language experts come out and say, “I knew that this was strange when this one small thing happened,” and I’m like, “I don’t think you would have done that right when it happened, because you wanted to have some safety first of knowing it was likely true.” [chuckles] 

David: Well, yeah. And with those kinds of things, if you’re an investigator, what you would look at and say, “That’s really unusual.” All that says is, “You know what? Let’s take a closer look.” You wouldn’t bring the guy in and interrogate him at this point. But you would say, “You know what? We need to pull phone records. We need to look for infidelity. We need to look for money that’s being spent wrong.” Whatever the case might be, all it says is here’s something that shows concern, let’s investigate a bit more.

Zach: I don’t know if you’d agree with me, but do you find… I mean, to me, written and verbal analysis, statement analysis, is so much more powerful for these kinds of things just because it’s so much less ambiguous. Would you agree with that? I’m not sure if you’ve read—

David: No, I would absolutely agree with that. The choice of a word has to be done cognitively. You have to think about it. And you have to purposefully choose, you know, why somebody scratches their ear is ambiguous. I agree with you a hundred percent on that. 

Zach: Yeah. One interesting thing you go into in your book was about pauses. You know, when the interrogator will ask a question and then the person being questioned will give an unnaturally long pause before answering, which you would expect innocent people with nothing to hide would have a quick answer for most questions. That was an interesting section in your book talking about how that will often be a sign that someone’s hiding something. Whether they’re guilty or not. 

Zach: Exactly. Again, it depends on the context. Is a pause accurate? If I said to you, “Give me three words describing yourself.” Well, most of us don’t think about that. And so you’d have to pause and think. If I said, “What do you look like?” You’d say, “Well, I’m this tall, and I’ve got this color hair and this color eyes.” That’s easy. But, “Who are you as a person?” You pause. Now, some people will cover the pause if they’re deceptive to make it look better. I mean, if you just stop talking for 30 seconds and then say no, it doesn’t look good. Now you might cover the pause with a created jab. You know, they reach down and brushed the lint off their knee. 

Zach: Or cough. 

David: They cough. Or they use [clears throat] “I didn’t do it.

Zach: Yeah, make a joke. 

David: Yeah, those things cover the pause. Generally, the simplest answer is the best answer. 

Zach: Yeah, some of the interesting… I keep saying ‘interesting’ and it’s getting kind of old, but one of the interesting things in your book, too, was talking about the differences between innocent people being interrogated and guilty people, and how guilty people reach this stage fairly quickly of where they’re just kind of shut down and demoralized and not protesting as much, whereas innocent people continually state their innocence and get continually worked up. So you can kind of tell the differences in the energy levels. Obviously, with all this stuff, it’s not a hundred percent but it definitely sounds like it’s a clear pattern. And it makes sense too because guilty people often are not going to be the ones to often get angry and push about the stuff because they know there’s a reason they’re there. And they don’t want to anger their interrogators by getting upset. They have a tendency to be conciliatory and friendly, too. So that’s part of it.

David: We use what we call an introductory statement to begin an interrogation. Again, we call it a non-confrontational introductory statement. Basically, all it is is it tells the individual who I am and what did I do. It tells him the types of crimes or incidents I investigate. And then I tell them how I go about the investigation process in general vague terms. The difference that you see when you say that to a truthful person, they’re interested because you’re telling them about the loss prevention or police work. The guilty party, because of what they’ve done, sees it as, “Oh, my God, he’s got me.” And so there’s an entirely different look that often you can see that helps support the decision that you’ve made to press ahead with an attempt to get an admission from the person. 

Zach: I want to talk about one specific behavior which was interesting and needed because it had a kind of a corollary in poker. Bluffers are more prone to conciliatory and overly friendly behavior in poker. They can be. And this tendency might be noticed in situations where you think a relaxed person would react in an irritated way. For example, the well-known poker player Phil Hellmuth is known for being pretty verbally abusive to his opponents and acting– to put it bluntly– like an asshole often. What a lot of people don’t realise is that Hellmouth and others who act this way can sometimes get clues from opponents who’ve made a bet how they react to him. Whether they’re more friendly or conciliatory, or whether they let their anger or irritation show. So if they show irritation, for example, with Phil Helmus irritating behavior, they’re more likely to be relaxed and have a strong hand. Whereas on the other side, if they smile and nod politely, they are more likely to be bluffing, especially if they’ve been willing to express irritation in the past. That was an interesting crossover because you will see a lot of people acting in very smiley conciliatory ways when they’re bluffing and just want to be friends with their opponent. That was an interesting thing that tied into what you were saying about people having conciliatory behaviors when they’re a guilty suspect. 

David: Yeah. I had a child molester one time, and he wasn’t going to admit it. But we’d have an hour conversation about him abusing some boys and at the end of it, he gets up and says, “Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about this.” Basically, for an hour, I’ve been inferring that he’s a child molester and he appreciates my time and effort. 

Zach: Right, that’s a clear indicator there. Yeah. Cuz you just have to ask yourself, “What are the chances of an innocent person in this situation acting this way? Yeah. Have you ever had somebody you questioned try to hang out with you afterwards like, “Hey, we should hang out sometime.” 

David: [laughs] People don’t like to hang out with us. [laughs]

Zach: I thought they might just be super friendly.

David: I’d say that. But the other thing that you’ll see is kind of a general indicator of people who are involved in cases is they’ll often try to come back and test the waters. They’ll come back and they’ll say, “You asked me how much money I make and I told you $13 an hour, it’s actually $13.10.” Now, they didn’t come back to tell you about that extra 10 cents, they came back to look at you and see, “Are you treating me any different? How did I…?” They want a grade on the play that they’ve just had. You’ll also see this with– on occasion– people will try to integrate themselves into the investigation. And it can be because they’re innocent, but in a lot of cases, they want to kind of see what direction is heading and am I in trouble or not? 

Zach: Does that happen very often? Because I know that’s kind of a cliché sometimes in movies and shows. Is that a fairly rare thing? 

David: I think it happens. It’s more rare than that. 

Zach: Many podcasts and documentaries have covered true crime lately and we’ve heard a lot about false confessions. You talk a good amount about false confessions in your book and how to structure your strategy so that false confessions are less likely or much less likely. It seems like your non-confrontational approach would very much minimize these false confessions. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you see your approach making those less likely?

David: Sure. There’s three basic types of false confessions that people generally talk about. There’s the voluntary false confessor. This is the person who comes up and– like the fellow who was in China that said, “I killed JonBenét Ramsey.” He didn’t do it. So when you have a voluntary person, it could be they want to be punished for something, it could be they’re protecting somebody else, it could be they’re mentally unstable. It could be a variety of things. And that’s why in an investigation, you keep the crime scene and other details of the crime secret. Because if you’re going to… “Well, where was she killed?”
“Well, I don’t know. Her bedroom?”

I mean, they’re guessing. And so really quickly, you can generally weed those folks out. The other type that you have are coursed internalised. And an internalized, these folks– and again, I’m going to generalize. But generally, they have memory problems. They may be younger, they could be alcoholics or drug abusers who have gaps in their memories. And basically, the interrogator convinces them that that they’re involved and they have no independent recollection. Otherwise, the interrogator seems reasonable; therefore, I must have done it. And so these folks will actually believe that they have done it for a period of time. And they’re not involved at all. The third type is the course compliant. And the course compliant individual tends to be… Again, they’re often younger, they’re often socially inept, they have social problems with families, friends and others. They tend to be very compliant. And as a result, they know they didn’t do it. But to get themselves out of a difficult situation, they will go along; they’ll say I did it. And if the interrogator is feeding them details, they can actually make a confession that sounds plausible. Because they’re repeating, you know, 

“Where did you shoot him?” Okay, well, now you know the person was shot. So, you know, 

“I think I shot him in the chest.” 

“No, you didn’t? How about the head?”

“Okay,” you know?

So if the interrogator isn’t careful and is feeding details to them, at the end, you’re going to get a confession that sounds reasonable. But when you go back and you watch the whole interrogation, the details of each one of these components of the confession were actually fed by the interrogator. 

Zach: Right. Yeah, and you had some great transcripts in the book about those kinds of situations with the leading of the person being interrogated, and a person who had false confessed talking to him years later and just how kind of compliant and laid back he was. He never even seemed angry about the fact that he had been put in prison for however many years. It was just an interesting insight into the types of people that can make false confessions. 

David: That’s one of the things that as an interviewer and an interrogator, you’ve got to be careful about giving information to the person. Because that’s how you’re going to test the veracity of that admission that they make. If you’re giving them these things, they can make certain assumptions. They can take those details and feed them back to you. And it’s very, very difficult to tell whether it’s from them or it’s something you said.

Zach: Yeah, it made me think about those. You had some stuff about the children cases of people getting accused of Satanic and crazy child sexual abuse situations, and where it turned out to be basically the therapists were putting these ideas in their mind and the children– in the same way you describe– were just going along with it. And it would get increasingly weird as they’d follow up one idea with another and it would get increasingly weird and the children were just going along with it because the adults obviously wanted them to. That’s just really interesting insight into how those things play out. 

David: Well, it’s because of the suggestibility of a young child, of somebody who is mentally challenged. They want to be cooperative and so they go along with whatever the person is doing. And so, interviewing young children or people who are mentally challenged or are very compliant, you’ve got to be very, very careful because of the suggestibility. A lot of police departments now have either specially trained officers or they have therapists who work with them to do these interviews with Child Sexual Abuse just because of these types of things that that happened with the daycare child abuse in the last 30 years.

Zach: One other idea here. I saw you had talked in the book about the eye direction correlating with deception and truthfulness idea kind of based on the neuro linguistic programming ideas. I know that theory has been criticized a lot in recent years and I was just curious if you still were a proponent of it or had changed your mind on it, or what were your current thoughts on it? 

David: Well, the first the first thing is it was miss trained from its inception. People would say, “Well, he looked to the left, he’s recalling, it’s the truth. Looked to the right, he’s creating, it’s a lie.” The IQs are really nothing more than an assist to find where you filed it in your brain. That’s really what it’s for. If you and I agreed to a story… You know, “Last night, we played poker.” Okay. So if anybody asks you, “David and I played poker last night.” Okay? So it wouldn’t be unusual if somebody says, “What’d you do last night?” You might look to your left recalling and say, “David and I are playing poker.” Now, that was an absolute fabrication. All you were doing is it was an agreed upon lie that you will recall. But now if I asked you, “Well, where did you play poker? How many others were there? Where did you sit at the table? Who was on your left? Who was on your right? Who was the big winner? Who was the big loser?” Now, creation has to take place. Where this is valuable to you is not to say this is truthful or its untruthful, it’s to say, “Here’s something that was recalled.” So as I drill down the story about our poker game last night, what I should see is more recall. If I start to see creation, I should start asking more questions about why would they… Either he doesn’t remember and he’s making up an answer, that could be a possibility. It could be a possibility that he’s lying. It could be a possibility. All this says to me is, why would he be creating here? Then you have to look at the question that you asked. Again, if I asked you, “Give me three words that would describe you,” as I used earlier, you might go to the right if that was your pattern. Not everybody uses this pattern, some people reverse. But if you want to the right, doesn’t mean you’re lying. It just means I’ve not thought of myself in this fashion, I’ve got to come up with three words that describe me and my personality. What three words would I choose? I think there’s value to it. The value is in looking at, is the person creating or are they recalling? And then you look at the context of the question and the question that you asked. And then does that creation or that recall make sense? 

Zach: It sounds like you’re a believer in it still. And I was curious of that because I’m wondering if you had a lot of personal experience with seeing that approach yield results. Would you say that’s your main reason for believing that it’s a good approach?

David: Well, for example, I had a young lady. We were we were doing… So, $100,000 in diamond chip install. And it came in to the jewelry company and there were two people that processed it. So there’s only two possible suspects. The young lady, I interview her and I asked her a question so I can determine when she looks to her left of her eyes, look to the left, she’s recalling, and right is creation. So when I asked her about the diamonds, I was able to clear her. But we also had some information that she might have been using drugs on the job. And so I asked her, “What kind of drugs have you ever just experimented with?” She gave several. “How many times would you say that you’ve used drugs on the job?” And she looks to the left. So, what she’s just said is, “I’m recalling using drugs on the job.” It’s like any kind of behavior. It’s not a hundred percent, but there is an application. But the important thing to remember about this is that it doesn’t have anything to do with truth or deception. A lot of what you’re reading about the people that are criticizing it, they’re exactly right. Because the way it was trained for years was if you look to your left, truthful, to the right, lying. It’s not that way at all.

Zach: Gotcha. Gotcha. Yeah, I’d like to read more about it. I’d heard about it a while back. I actually used to work for a guy who was a neuro linguistic programming guy and did seminars and stuff. I did that for like six months several years ago, it was a while back. And so I’d heard of the concept and then I had just heard recently how people were criticizing it. So I’d actually like to look more into it and see what other people are saying about it. Yeah, that’s interesting. One more question I think I have here. How often do you think it happens that a read of someone or read of a suspect as being truthful or innocent changes the course of an investigation? In other words, if a suspect is a good liar and a good actor and good at mimicking innocence, how likely is it to change the direction of an investigation?

David: I don’t have any hard numbers for you, but it certainly could happen. A lot of the miscarriages of justice, the investigators have predetermined this is the person. And so they focused on them, excluding any other possible explanation, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy almost that this is the person that did it. And they ignore evidence to the contrary that doesn’t fit their theory of the crime. And in those situations, you should always follow the evidence of an investigation. I can’t think of a specific case right off the top of my head but there have been people who’ve been interviewed and have gotten away. They managed to lie to the investigator and the investigator wasn’t able to tell. If you read some of the the research on behavior and the interpretation of behavior, basically, most of the academics would say that it’s about the flip of a coin. That you’re going to be able to tell when somebody’s truthful or deceptive. Some of that initial research was done by just showing you a video and the guy says, “I went to the store and got bread. Truthful or not truthful?” I mean, you don’t have an investigation, you can’t ask questions, you don’t have a behavioral norm. I mean, it is a flip of the coin. There’s a new interview– it’s not really new, it’s back in the ’90s when it was first developed by two academics, Fisher and Geiselman, and it’s called a cognitive interview. The most recent research on the cognitive interview is that you can– and they’ve expanded this to the cognitive interview for suspects. It used to be it was designed to use on victims and witnesses to increase the amount of accurate information that you get. But then they started to look at it and in suspects, and what they found was that the investigator could identify the true status of the subject he was talking about between 85% and 100% of the time accurately. Which is unbelievably phenomenal. In our in our seminars and when we teach this and do exercises, although it’s not scientific, that’s about what we see in some of the group work. That they’re able to take a story and based on the interviews that we’re teaching them how to do, they can make a correct determination of whether the story is true or it’s deceptive.

Zach: That’s interesting. Yeah, definitely having a lot more data points to compare is much more likely to show some actual utility and using these things than just one person saying one sentence. That’s not going to show you much reliable information. 

David: No, you’re exactly right. And that’s why most of the interviewing that we do, we advocate using open-ended questions so that a person has to give you a narrative response. An open ended question would be, “Tell me about what happened there.” And you just let them talk. “Tell me more about this,” and you let them talk. And we start to go back to the verbal component. Truthful people tend to have… You know, they tend to be more detailed, they tend to be more expressive, they tend to include emotions that are appropriate. The style of their responses gives you a lot more. I don’t know the application in poker because I’m not much of a poker player other than I would come and give you my money, there’s what are called micro expressions. Micro expressions are the basic human emotions that we all have. So if I got a good hand, there would be a fleeting. And when I say fleeting, it could be 1/15 of a second of your look of happiness that comes on your face before you pull the mask of non-committal. Or you get surprised. Or there may be a momentary frown of anger that you didn’t get the cards that you were looking for. They’ll just be fleeting, and then the mask will go back on. And I don’t know how well it would work in the poker environment because folks lock their faces up so much.

Zach: Yeah, that’s the thing. To me, the micro-expressions I don’t think they have much application to poker. I could be wrong, but it’s just because everybody’s much more focused on keeping a strong stoic poker face and not moving their face around as much. Whereas I think those small expressions come more into play when you’re in a more informal setting where you’re not expected to be watched every second kind of thing.

David: Yeah, that’s kind of what I would expect as well because you want a mask of neutrality, generally.

Zach: Yeah, that’s most people’s ammo. As soon as the stakes get decent stakes in a decent-sized hand, their masks come on and they’re kind of focused on being unreasonable. But let me sum up because I was trying to not take up too much of your time here. I just want to say your book is great and I got so many interesting tips on thinking about people and talking to people. And I really liked your approach of pointing out that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing and you go into a lot of different factors that can influence these things and say, “Oh, this can be a sign of somebody being guilty and anxious. But at the same time, remember, it could be a sign of them just not liking police or whatever.” I just really liked that you gave a lot of balance to many different things that could be true. I thought that was very commendable. And I want to say I think many people would benefit from reading this book, whether it’s just understanding how to negotiate better or understand people better or manage people or whatever. I think it would have a lot of applications. 

David: I’m sorry to interrupt you. But I’d just say that the most recent edition is the second. And third edition will probably be out, I would think, in 2020. But if anybody has an interest, you can get it on Amazon and you can get it in bookstores. But if they want to just call our office, we buy in bulk and we get an author’s discount and we pass that along to anybody who wants it. So if they do, they can call our office. 

Zach: And your website is Was that right? 

David: Yes, exactly. 

Zach: Okay, is their office site. Okay. One kind of question I was curious about, do you find writing about this very ambiguous and hard to write about stuff with behavior? Has it made you a better writer, would you say?

David: I would say so. I actually do a column in Loss Prevention Magazine six times a year. When I first wrote the first textbook, I realized what a terrible writer I actually was. Like anything, the more you do something, the better you get at it. So writing is difficult, and because of the variability, as you know, this could mean this but it also could mean this, this, and this. It’s tough to be sure.

Zach: Yeah, it’s tough to stay brief and be concise and be efficient when you’re talking about a topic that can be… You know, these things, like we’ve said, often can mean multiple different things and have a lot of different subtle factors. That was what I found, too, because when I first started writing this stuff, I would go back and read it and say, “Oh, this stuff isn’t exact. I’ve worded it really kind of wishy washy and vague and ambiguous.” And so then I had to go back and really tighten it up and then I would notice more problems later. So this subject matter, especially, for being so often ambiguous and hard to define with words to it, I think it lends itself to… You know, if you can write about this stuff well, then you can write about a lot of other stuff. Okay. And I was wondering, do a video training too or is it just the live training you do?

David: We have actually seminars. We do about 460 seminars a year worldwide. And then we have an online 10-hour program. We also have a program for sitting for the certified forensic interviewer certification. We also have just come out with an interactive video program called The Link that allows an individual to sit and do an interrogation with a suspect who reacts to what you ask and what you do. That’s just been out about one year now. 

Zach: That sounds interesting. Is that a popular one so far?

David: Actually, it is. Especially in the private sector because when you train somebody, you don’t want them going out and practicing in the real world. It’s better to practice and make your mistakes on a interactive video and feel more comfortable with what you’re going to do and help structure your interview with the subject before you actually let them go into a live interview and confront an employee.

Zach: Makes sense. Okay. Again, David’s company is W… Their website is Wicklander-Zulawski. Do you have any other things you want to tell about where to find your work or other projects you’re working on right now that people might be interested in? 

David: I think probably the best spot is if you’re interested in the types of classes, go to the website. If you’re looking for support material, textbook, access to any of the other materials that we have, it can all be found on the website. And if they’re not capable of getting on the website, they’re welcome to call the office, which is 630-852-6800. And just hit the operator button or extension 100 and ask what you need and they’ll point you to the right person.

Zach: Okay, great. I think you also have a YouTube channel with some good amount of interesting videos on that.

David: Yes, we do. 

Zach: Yeah. Okay. All right. This has been great, David, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and I think the listeners will find this interesting. I appreciate your time and I’ll talk to you soon.

David: Okay, thanks so much.

Zach: All right.

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