This isn’t specific to officers or noncommissioned officers. This is one of the most difficult nuances to figure out when it comes to any environment, but it becomes increasingly difficult when you are in an environment that promotes a sense of stoic professionalism and a structure that is so rigid that, often, there appears to be absolutely no room for flexibility. There are plenty of leaders that allow for some fun and games in the workplace to encourage unit cohesion and to create a more comfortable environment for teams to connect. A true leader can see when and where these relaxing times are appropriate, and they also know when it is time to be serious. The hardest part for anyone is learning to understand people, not just in general, but on an individual basis as well.
It is easy to read the room. If people are laughing and joking, then the situation is laid back. If you see nothing but straight faces and focus, people are being serious. At least, they are trying to be. Just because the signs can sometimes be obvious, doesn’t always mean you are reading the situation correctly. If there is anyone that can keep a deceptively straight face, it is a member of the armed forces. The longer you are in, the better you get at hiding what you are thinking. This is what makes it so difficult to tell when a joke or sarcastic remark is going to land well with the people around you. People of the same rank will either identify something as funny, and laugh with you, or not funny, and probably laugh at you. There is a lot more laughing in the military than people think, it is just a good idea to keep it private. Why?
The military is a professional organization. We pride ourselves on being intelligent, courageous, tough, always ready, and an example to the world of why service members are something to aspire too. That being said, the military sense of humor, is an acquired taste. We say and do questionable things because, despite being everything I just mentioned, we are also human too. We laugh, we cry, we love, we hate, we get tired, we get stressed, and even with all the training we receive, we have breaking points too. Laughter is the most effective medicine and members of military organizations, regardless of individual job specialties, are almost all elite when it comes to drawing out some laughter. The only time and place we typically care about is the here and now. Professional or not, there aren’t many times where laughing is not welcome. There are times, but they are rare.
They are less rare when leadership is present. Most service members that are in a leadership position are in that position because they are likely making a career of the military. They laugh and joke too, but not as much. It is important for them to be taken seriously by their superiors and when other members around you, especially those under your command, are laughing and joking, there are many ways this gets interpreted. Most noncommissioned officers will get it because they have been where you are, so they don’t just understand. They know. The ones that know, tend to be much better at identifying the times and places and can laugh and joke but also maintain control. It is rare that you will encounter an officer that wasn’t prior enlisted that will possess the same understanding. The longer they spent behind a desk, the less they will understand and the more likely you are to get in trouble for something seemingly insignificant.