Did You Get Your Relational Aggression Vaccination This Year?

Mean Girls (First Communion II) by jparadisi Published March 2011 by the American Journal of Nursing
Mean Girls (First Communion II) mixed media on paper by jparadisi. Published March 2011 by the American Journal of Nursing.

2012 marks the latest arrival of flu season in twenty-four years. So far, nurses remark how little flu they’ve encountered in the community, and it seems sick calls are fewer this year.

If the flu season is mild, the prodromal symptoms of Relational Aggression are virulent. Common symptoms include: nurses addressing coworkers with aggressive voices and or words, withholding information benefiting a coworker, speaking patronizingly, disregarding a coworker’s contribution to a conversation, or ignoring him or her altogether. These behaviors sprout in every workplace from time to time. When it happens at mine, I feel a bout of emotional flu coming on.

It is paradoxical. A nurse who’d go beyond the call of duty for quality patient care will turn and rip a carotid artery from the neck of a coworker with the ferocity of a wolverine, metaphorically speaking.

Reading recent posts of fellow nurse bloggers, it appears RA season is in full swing. Last week, Joni Watson at Nursetopia blogged about Emotional S & M Nurses and Sounding Boards; Kathleen Bartholomew blogged about RA at NurseTogether.

Last month I read When Nurses Hurt Nurses by Cheryl Dellasega, PhD. She defines Relational Aggression as

“…gossip, exclusion, teasing, tormenting, undermining, cyber slamming, and a host of other verbal and social behaviors designed to wound another person.”

Dellasega encourages nurses stop RA through identifying their own behavior perceived as aggressive by their coworkers. She unfortunately notes, however, most hardwired aggressors aren’t interested in reading a book like When Nurses Hurt Nurses (probably because their behavior works for them). She suggests coping with RA by

“learning to communicate effectively, adjusting your attitude, collaborating around a common goal, managing stress, and sometimes just forgiving…”

I’m practicing her advice. Some days it works. Other days, I want to lash out, “I am not ignoring your snarkiness because I’m stupid, or don’t recognize your aggressive behavior. I am nice to you because I have integrity. I am a professional,” but I don’t (remember, learn effective communication). Instead, on those days, I resort to forgiveness. Joni Watson provided a lovely affirmation by Mother Theresa titled Anyway. Wish me luck.

Instead of mandatory flu shots, perhaps nurses need vaccination against Relational Aggression.

Sometimes, work feels like the flu.

Have you experienced relational aggression at work, regardless if you are a nurse? How do you cope with it?


  1. I am actually doing research gathering information about RA and it’s effects in the workplace in order to help put together a training session for our nursing staff. I took on this very personal mission because I have been the victim of RA twice and this very last time it was venomous. The aggressor ended up resigning. I love the title about vaccination! Very creative. I am on a mission to help erradicate this behavior in our department, hospital, and in nursing.


    1. Angie, I’m sorry to hear you’ve been a victim of workplace RA, twice no less. I don’t know a nurse who hasn’t been infected at least once during a career. I know my work place is out of balance when I it’s taking more effort to work with my colleagues than to perform patient care. For many nurses, it’s a little like vampirism: it either kills them (metaphorically speaking) or they become one of them. For the rest of us, the ones who recover and survive, taking the high road by being mindful of how we communicate with coworker, modeling effective interactions, and calling out bullies in a professional manner becomes part of our job. The more nurses like yourself take on RA, professionally address the behaviors, and expect to be treated respectfully in the workplace, I do believe we can change the culture of nurses.


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