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How Germany's 'Master Interrogator' relied on kindness and empathy during WWII

Hanns Scharff's methods were so effective they were adopted by the FBI.

ww2 history, kindness, history
Credit: Sony

Flattery really will get you everywhere.

Imagine it’s WWII. You’re an American fighter pilot (thank you for your service) and a prisoner of war (eek).

Your interrogator walks in, and instantly your mind begins to prepare you for the torture that lies ahead. Will you be kicked, whipped and beaten? Forced to stand for hours on end until you give the enemy crucial intel? The anticipation alone is excruciating.

Suddenly, your interrogator says, “What would you like for lunch?”

This would be your treatment if questioned under Hanns-Joachim Gottlob Scharff, “Master Interrogator” of Germany’s Luftwaffe branch, who’s unconventional techniques surprisingly reveal the power of kindness.

Scharff never sought out a military career, but a series of seemingly fated events led him to one nonetheless.

A businessman at the time, Scharff had been vacationing in Germany in 1939 when the war broke out and he was forcibly drafted into the army. His wife would help him avoid fighting on the front lines by vying for him to work as an interpreter.

It wouldn’t be long before Scharff would unintentionally move up the ranks. After two of his superiors died in a plane crash, he landed the position of lead interrogator.

Unlike his peers and predecessors, Scharff was opposed to obtaining information through physical or psychological abuse. Instead, he relied upon friendliness and empathy. He regularly took prisoners out to lunch and on luxurious nature walks, and he even offered them baked goods made by his wife. It was essentially more of a wooing than an interrogation.

In addition to the friendly approach, Scharff would also never press for information and perpetuated an illusion of knowing all the information already (which included acting unsurprised whenever a prisoner might reveal new intel). The last component of his strategy involved casually presenting a claim to see if the prisoner would confirm or deny it, otherwise known as the confirmation/disconfirmation tactic.

All these tricks proved incredibly effective. Not only was Scharrf highly successful at getting information (one prisoner famously remarked that he "could get a confession of infidelity from a nun”) he also managed to save the lives of multiple American pilots in the process. He even remained friends with one after the war.

His methods were so successful that following WWII, he was invited to give lectures in America, and he became a major influence on U.S. interrogation techniques.

One last fun fact: America is where Scharff would end up retiring, where he would take up creating mosaics—a passion he once had as a young boy. If you ever find yourself at Cinderella's Castle in Walt Disney World, you might find one of his works.

Cinderella, Disney World

Scharff clearly had many talents.

cdn1.parksmedia.wdprapps.disney.com

Not in Florida anytime soon? You can also find some of his work at the California State Capitol building, Los Angeles City Hall, and several American universities like Dixie College in Utah and the University of Southern California campus.

You know what they say—you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. Getting the desired result from another person is often more easily achieved by being kind and understanding, both in times of war and in everyday life.

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From political science to joining the fight against cancer: How one woman found her passion

An unexpected pivot to project management expanded Krystal Brady's idea of what it means to make a positive impact.

Krystal Brady/PMI

Krystal Brady utilizes her project management skills to help advance cancer research and advocacy.

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Cancer impacts nearly everyone’s life in one way or another, and thankfully, we’re learning more about treatment and prevention every day. Individuals and organizations dedicated to fighting cancer and promising research from scientists are often front and center, but we don’t always see the people working behind the scenes to make the fight possible.

People like Krystal Brady.

While studying political science in college, Brady envisioned her future self in public office. She never dreamed she’d build a successful career in the world of oncology, helping cancer researchers, doctors and advocates continue battling cancer, but more efficiently.

Brady’s journey to oncology began with a seasonal job at a small publishing company, which helped pay for college and awakened her love for managing projects. Now, 15 years later, she’s serving as director of digital experience and strategy at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which she describes as “the perfect place to pair my love of project management and desire to make positive change in the world.”

As a project manager, Brady helps make big ideas for the improvement of diagnosing and treating cancer a reality. She is responsible for driving the critical projects that impact the lives of cancer researchers, doctors, and patients.

“I tell people that my job is part toolbox, part glue,” says Brady. “Being a project manager means being responsible for understanding the details of a project, knowing what tools or resources you need to execute the project, and facilitating the flow of that work to the best outcome possible. That means promoting communication, partnership, and ownership among the team for the project.”

At its heart, Brady’s project management work is about helping people. One of the big projects Brady is currently working on is ASCO’s digital transformation, which includes upgrading systems and applications to help streamline and personalize oncologists’ online experience so they can access the right resources more quickly. Whether you are managing humans or machines, there’s an extraordinary need for workers with the skillset to harness new technology and solve problems.

The digital transformation project also includes preparing for the use of emerging technologies such as generative AI to help them in their research and practices.

“Most importantly, it lays the groundwork for us to make a meaningful impact at the point of care, giving the oncologist and patient the absolute latest recommendations or guidelines for care for that specific patient or case, allowing the doctor to spend more time with their patients and less time on paperwork,” Brady says.

In today’s fast-changing, quickly advancing world, project management is perhaps more valuable than ever. After discovering her love for it, Brady earned her Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification through Project Management Institute (PMI)—the premier professional organization for project managers with chapters all over the world—which she says gave her an edge over other candidates when she applied for her job at ASCO.

“The knowledge I gained in preparing for the PMP exam serves me every day in my role,” Brady says. “What I did not expect and have truly come to value is the PMI network as well – finding like-minded individuals, opportunities for continuous learning, and the ability to volunteer and give back.”

PMI’s growing community – including more than 300 chapters globally – serves as a place for project managers and individuals who use project management skills to learn and grow through events, online resources, and certification programs.

While people often think of project management in the context of corporate careers, all industries and organizations need project managers, making it a great career for those who want to elevate our world through non-profits or other service-oriented fields.

“Project management makes a difference by focusing on efficiency and outcomes, making us all a little better at what we do,” says Brady. “In almost every industry, understanding how to do our work more effectively and efficiently means more value to our customers, and the world at large, at an increased pace.”

Project management is also a stable career path in high demand as shown by PMI research, which found that the global economy will need 25 million more project managers by 2030 and that the median salary for project managers in the US has grown to $120K.

If you’d like to learn more about careers in project management, PMI has resources to help you get started or prove your proficiency, including its entry-level Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification program. For those interested in pursuing a project management career to make a difference, it could be your first step.

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