Mark Gasparotto- Humor as a Coping Mechanism

Using Humor to Diffuse Tense Situations: Lessons from Combat and Leadership


In this episode of “Humor in the C-Suite,” host Kate Davis interviews Mark Gasparotto, a combat veteran and leadership development professional. Mark shares his experiences using humor to diffuse tense situations both in combat and in leadership roles. He discusses the importance of self-deprecating humor, the power of shared experiences and inside jokes, and the role of humor in building trust within teams. Mark also highlights the need for boundaries and sensitivity when using humor, especially in diverse and civilian environments. He emphasizes the contagious nature of panic and the importance of maintaining a sense of humor in high-stress situations. Throughout the conversation, Mark shares anecdotes from his time in the military, showcasing the role of humor in bonding and coping with challenging circumstances.

Key Takeaways:

  • Humor can serve as a release valve for the intense pressure and stress experienced in combat situations.

  • Self-deprecating humor can demonstrate vulnerability and build trust within teams.

  • Genuine laughter indicates a strong connection and a safe space for vulnerability.

  • Shared experiences and inside jokes can strengthen bonds and create a sense of camaraderie within teams.

  • Knowing the audience and setting boundaries when using humor is important, especially in diverse and civilian environments.

Notable Quotes:

  • “When laughter is genuine, it demonstrates a real connection among the group and a safe place to be vulnerable.” – Mark Gasparotto

  • “You can’t click your way to resilience. You can’t click your way to trust. It requires shared experiences and struggles.” – Mark Gasparotto

  • “Humor has really helped me come through dark and intense experiences.” – Mark Gasparotto

From the Battlefield to the Boardroom: Using Humor to Build Stronger Teams


Humor is often seen as a lighthearted and frivolous aspect of life, but it can actually play a significant role in leadership and team dynamics. In this article, we explore the insights of Mark Gasparotto, a military leader and entrepreneur, on how humor can diffuse tense situations and build stronger teams. Drawing from his experiences in combat and leadership development, Gasparottoshares his thoughts on the power of self-deprecating humor, the importance of shared experiences, and the role of humor in creating a safe and trusting environment.

The Power of Self-Deprecating Humor

Gasparottoemphasizes the importance of self-deprecating humor as a leadership tool. By poking fun at oneself, leaders can demonstrate vulnerability and create a safe space for others to do the same. This type of humor can help build trust and foster a sense of camaraderie within a team. Gasparottoshares that he often uses self-deprecating jokes to lighten the mood and diffuse tension in high-stress situations. He believes that this type of humor can be particularly effective in military settings, where soldiers use gallows humor to cope with the death and destruction they witness.

Shared Experiences and Inside Jokes

Gasparotto highlights the significance of shared experiences and inside jokes in team building. He explains that these shared moments create a sense of connection and understanding among team members. Gasparottorecounts humorous anecdotes from his time in Kandahar, where soldiers developed inside jokes and playful nicknames for each other. These jokes served as a release valve for the tremendous pressure they faced and helped strengthen the bonds between them. Gasparotto also emphasizes the importance of equity in facing challenges together, as shared struggles can deepen the sense of connection within a team.

Humor in Leadership Development

Gasparotto’s experiences in leadership development have further reinforced the value of humor in team building. He incorporates humor into his workshops and keynote speeches, using self-deprecating jokes and engaging the audience in interactive activities. Gasparottobelieves that genuine laughter is a sign of a strong connection and a safe space for vulnerability. He encourages leaders to embrace humor and create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing a laugh. Gasparotto also acknowledges the need to adapt humor to different audiences, ensuring that boundaries are respected and everyone feels included.


Humor can be a powerful tool for leaders in building trust, fostering camaraderie, and creating a safe and inclusive environment. Gasparotto’s insights highlight the importance of self-deprecating humor, shared experiences, and inside jokes in team building. By embracing humor and creating a space for laughter, leaders can strengthen the bonds between team members and enhance collaboration. As Gasparotto suggests, a well-timed joke or a shared laugh can go a long way in diffusing tension and building stronger teams.

Note: This article is based on a transcript of an interview with Mark Gasparotto for the “Humor in the C-Suite” podcast.

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