The real point of distinction for Green Berets versus their door-kicking brethren is the ability to work by, with, and through foreign fighters. Candidates are selected (or, more often, not selected) based in part on their ability to build rapport both with their foreign partners and with their team members.

Many an SF candidate has made it through the physical and mental rigors only to learn that their ‘social’ skills – playing as a member of a team and acting mindfully towards partner forces – aren’t good enough to make the cut. It sounds a little harsh to non-select a guy because he’s a bit of a prick, but one wrong word spoken to the wrong guy at the wrong time can get you – or your team – killed. What better security than a widespread network of loyal friends, with their ears to the ground?

You can’t really teach it, it can’t easily be learned: there’s a specific type of man who wants it to suck, who likes going to war with no real support-chain behind them, jumped-in with nothing but a solid knife, some well-worn boots, and his own charm, that trust-before-you-test relationship building. It is one of the key skills used by SF, and their ability to do so in austere and complex environments allows them greater freedom of movement than other SOF units. Building rapport is a matter of checking one’s own ego and operating nimbly on instinct. Being able to flex, bend, and adapt to cultures other than one’s own is a key mark of a mature and competent man. Built upon a moral framework and a desire to accomplish the mission no matter what, Green Berets learn to work by, with, and through their counterparts.

There’s a few specific rapport-building techniques that I’ve learned, mostly from men wiser than me, and I’d like to pass them on to you as everyday TTPs that you may want to try on your own battlefield.

– Know the operational environment, and become genuinely interested in it 

This entails more than just a breeze through Wikipedia and a pointy-talkie. Understanding and expressing interest requires a combination of stalker-level interest in people’s lives and relating it to one’s own personal context. It’s as true on the battlefield as it is in the cubicle farm.

In one country, we were frustrated with the conduct of our locals until we realized that the fundamental concept of ’cause and effect’ was totally foreign, and that because of the education of our students (namely that they have a book that tells them to burn all the other books), each step had to be explained with a rationale that could be understood and comprehended in context. “We must aim our rifles and shoot carefully; only one well-placed bullet is needed to kill one’s enemy, saving more bullets for other enemies!” as an example. By realizing that there was a gap in understanding, we could communicate on terms that made sense to everyone.

We also learned not only the names of our partners, but the names of their family members. By working hard to commit simple names to memory, we were able to build conversation and establish a genuine interest in their lives. They were more willing to train when they knew we had their future and the futures of their families in mind during training. A passing “Howdy Aziz, how’s your new baby Fahran doing?” will mean the world to a proud father, and her name is probably the most beautiful word in the world to him.