It takes two to tango. And you could say the same about workplace bullying. There has to be a bully, someone using their power or personality to intimidate a co-worker or subordinate — but there also has to be a ‘victim’ to accept that unfair treatment.

I found myself thinking about this after seeing tonight’s episode of Dragons’ Den. A woman gets flamed by the Dragons, and it reminded me of the time a pitcher complained to me that she felt she’d been bullied in the Den.

It’s true that the Dragons are rich and powerful, and that they are sometimes very critical of the entrepreneurs who are asking for investment — but who wouldn’t ask plenty of tough questions when asked to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars? It’s the Dragons’ own money these people want.

Even so, sometimes, it’s difficult to watch rookies go head-to-head with true pros. The powerful vs. powerless dynamic can appear to be akin to bullying.

But who is truly powerless? Tonight Claire Copp from Abbotsford, B.C., stands up to Kevin O’Leary as he attacks her business plan. (“Ooh, I like her now,” says Dragon Robert Herjavec, in praise of her spirit). Randy Thompson of Victoria, B.C. fought fire with fire earlier in the season, calling Kevin a variety of nasty names when he criticized Randy’s board game.

Anyone can do that — the show has no rules about how the Dragons and pitchers have to interact.

But it’s not easy to take on someone who seems bigger and stronger. And sadly when it comes to the workplace, bullying isn’t uncommon.

Most experts advise people with bullying colleagues to consult a trusted mentor. Often someone older and more experienced can offer ideas about how to react in tense situations.

If confrontation feels too dangerous or distressing, and if you work in company with a Human Resources department, someone there may be able to intervene on your behalf, and mediate.

In any work environment though, the key is to recognize that you are a valuable contributor, and that no one has a right to intimidate you. If you can draw on the strength of that knowledge, you can simply refuse to be drawn into a bullying scenario.

It takes two, after all.

– Dianne Buckner is the host of Dragons’ Den and the weekend anchor on the CBC News Network. Watch Dragons’ Den at 8 p.m. tonight on CBC.

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