Jason McCarthy | Charming the Snake (Episode 525)

Jason McCarthy (@GORUCK) teaches lessons focused on problem solving and rapport building related to “Charming the Snake,” a way of life for Green Berets that works in war, business, and love.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • What does GORUCK mean?
  • Where does the term “charming the snake” originate?
  • Why is it more efficacious to charm the metaphorical snake rather than kill it?
  • What are the stages of rapport building that are important for charming the snake?
  • It’s not really possible to overcommunicate.
  • And so much more…

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When he was in the Green Berets, Jason McCarthy learned what it means to “go ruck” — that is, as he defines it, “To put weight on your back and go for a walk. More weight or more miles equals more results; more friends and more time together equals more fun.”

Now a civilian, Jason runs GORUCK, a backpack company with the noble goals of serving as a voice for good, employing more veterans of Special Operations than any organization outside the US military, and building a bridge between the military and civilian worlds. He joins us on episode 525 of The Art of Charm to tell us about the Green Beret way of life called “Charming the Snake” and how it can be applied in war and peace.

(Direct Download Episode Here)

More About This Show

If you ask Jason McCarthy of GORUCK what he does for a living, he says: “Basically, I steal all the best lessons that I learned in Special Forces and apply them to building tough gear, tougher people, and to empower communities all over the world.” So more than just making backpacks that will withstand whatever punishment their users see fit to impose, GORUCK is a company with a mission to make positive social change.

“I think the big differentiator is that the brand of GORUCK is really intimately tied with my background in Special Forces,” says Jason. “So the 100 plus guys that lead our events are all decorated combat veterans of Special Operations. And at our core of our foundation, what we are is teachers. Yes, there’s the war/fighter aspect of it as well, but we’re teachers.”

What Jason and the other teachers at GORUCK do is show up on random street corners in random towns and lead fitness team-building classes with weighted backpacks serving as the only essential equipment. But that’s just the surface of it — what’s really important is how these classes help strengthen communities.

“I want more people out doing awesome stuff — whether it’s Tough Mudder or Crossfit or Spartan Race or anything else that you can name in that element,” Jason says. “Anything that strengthens communities and makes people better just being part of those communities is a really positive force. So we’re proud to be a part of that movement.”

Charming the Snake

Within the Special Forces community, “Charming the Snake” is a familiar concept. The snake represents the challenges — or enemies — in your life. And according to Jason, there are a couple of ways of dealing with these snakes:

  • You can kill them, but the problem is: there will always be more snakes.
  • You can charm them, and then they help you face your challenges — the other snakes.

In post 9/11 2001, the United States was faced with a lot of “snakes” in Afghanistan. The Soviets hadn’t succeeded in dealing with these snakes during their nine years there, and the British similarly failed — numerous times — in the 19th century. The Green Berets were tasked with buying time until more forces would arrive in spring of 2002 to oust the Taliban.

Building Rapport

In under three months, a battalion of Green Berets (about 350 soldiers) and the US Air Force would succeed by working with the Northern Alliance, a group within Afghanistan who also considered the Taliban an enemy. They began charming the snake — in this case, the Northern Alliance — by building rapport.

Know Your Audience

In the case of the US vs. the Taliban, the audience the Green Berets were trying to understand was the Northern Alliance — and vice versa. This set the foundation upon which rapport could be built. It entailed everything from knowing the local customs to the desired endgame.

In the civilian world, building rapport is just as important if you’re going for a job interview. Knowing your audience — your potential employer — begins at Google and social media. (Incidentally, this is something we explore more deeply at The Art of Charm with our Social Capital course.)

Mirror Common Ground

The common ground that could be agreed upon: the Northern Alliance and the US hated the Taliban and wanted it out of Afghanistan. Neither group was in a position over the other — each pulled its own weight and fought side-by-side against this common enemy.

In the case of the civilian job interview, presence implies interest. If the potential employer wants to meet with you at a certain time, make sure you’re not late. If the job is truly a good match for both parties, common ground will become apparent in the conversation that follows.

Listen Actively

Understand that each group has something to teach the other. It’s not just a matter of respect, but of survival, that the knowledge and needs of each group are heard and addressed.

“You’re actually listening,” says Jason. “You’re not just waiting for your turn to talk to prove yourself right…you put your ego aside and you basically say, ‘Hey, always trust the guy on the ground.'”

“It’s really a skill. You have to practice it,” says Jason. He even goes as far as to say it’s a perishable skill — like leadership — one that can be lost if it’s not practiced.

The mistake of sitting around and waiting for the opportunity to talk instead of actively listening to what the other party has to say is a sure way of derailing the rapport building process — in planning a battle, or interviewing for a job.

Maintain Rapport

On rapport: “It’s really hard to build and it’s easy to lose,” says Jason. One way the US maintained rapport with the Northern Alliance: by bringing in the Air Force to drop big bombs on the common enemy.

When you’ve interviewed for a job (or seeking more interviews), it’s important to stay in communication with your contacts. “You have to keep checking in with people,” says Jason. Remember: presence implies interest. If you already know your audience as we learned in step one, you already know what that audience wants. You’ve already proven yourself by mirroring common ground in step two, and you’ve listened actively in step three. Don’t let your hard work fall by the wayside.

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about Jason’s leadership and problem-solving approach, why Murphy’s Law makes adaptation a crucial part of any plan that’s not destined to fail, why we should remember that the enemy always has a vote, what happens in GORUCK’s Leadership Laboratory, why Jason chose business over further military service (against his own expectations), and lots more.

THANKS, JASON MCCARTHY!

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Jordan Harbinger - author of 703 posts on The Art of Charm

Jordan Harbinger has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war zones, and been kidnapped -- twice. He’ll tell you the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of) just about any type of situation. Here at The Art of Charm, Jordan shares that experience, and the system borne as a result, with students and clients.

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