Publish at March 15 2023 Updated March 15 2023

Recognition and reflection

The foundation of self-confidence

"The desire for recognition is a slave desire."

F.Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil

The issue of recognition in business or school remains a constant concern. The child needs to feel recognized in order to progress in his construction and the teacher or manager also needs to feel recognized. Recognition often depends on the other person's gaze. How to get rid of this dependence on the gaze of others?

What teacher, what manager has not been alerted to the need to implement recognition strategies? Who has not heard about the close link between recognition and motivation?

The double meaning of the word recognition can open us to alternative fields of reflection: Beyond the meaning of "being grateful" which calls for a reward, "recognition" also has the meaning of "recognizing oneself" as one recognizes oneself in a mirror: to see that it is indeed oneself who is there present.

But by limiting the question of recognition to its "reward" aspect, we may be missing the essential question: What is important for each of us is to use our activities to be able to verify that we do exist. To realize oneself through one's work is to become real. To have effective proof that one exists.

Recognition and reward

  • Recognition as a source of pleasure.

Neuroscience has shown us for many years that, at bottom, all the brain is looking for is a reward. The main project is that the activity the individual conducts allows the body to produce the pleasure hormone: dopamine. The processes dealing with rewards are managed by a particular brain system. The reward/reinforcement system, also called the hedonic system, is a fundamental functional system of mammals. This "reward" system is essential for survival because it provides the motivation to perform adapted actions or behaviors, allowing the preservation of the individual and the species: foraging, reproduction, danger avoidance...

There are many ways to reproduce this process. The most direct, but somewhat destructive means are artificial paradises: certain psychotropic drugs, including alcohol or opioids, act directly on this system when absorbed by the organism.

Other practices involve the detour through activity: work, sexual activity, risk-taking, extreme sports, in a word anything that can produce sensation. It seems that at a certain age when these activities become more difficult to carry out, the brain finds its reward in honors. The Legion of Honor produces dopamine in the same way that Harpagon's gold cassette does. To each age its pleasures!"

Recognition is also a way of obtaining reward, the physiological goal of motivation to act.

  • Recognition source of self-image

To know if he is swimming well, the apprentice swimmer would need to be able to get out of the water.

The need for reward is not the only driver of the search for recognition.

Lacking the ability to have a clear idea of the value of his actions, the actor has an irrepressible need for feedback on what he is doing. The recognition of his boss is a narcissistic resource that the actor cannot have by himself as long as he does not have the possibility to step back. Obviously, the disadvantage of such a demand for narcissistic replenishment from the outside makes the individual dependent on the outside. This is the theme of the play "huis clos" [1] which concludes with the famous remark: "Hell is other people". But contrary to what the author concludes, what is hell is not the others it is the dependence on the gaze of the other.

For many managers, this dependence on the recognition of their collaborators can become a tool for manipulation: "I give unattainable objectives so I can justify not rewarding them; it leaves me room for maneuver." But this dependence on the other person's view is also a dependence for the manager. In coaching, I often hear managers tell me: "What I can least stand is never seeing my boss. I'd rather have him yell at me a thousand times than never see him."

Recognition is therefore quite commonly seen in the sense of reward. Napoleon patting the cheek of his grunts, the fish rewarding the dolphin who has performed his act well.

In this first meaning of the term, the reward gives the sought-after pleasure but it is also a way of giving the information that the activity has been successful and that the actor has performed the expected behavior.

This seems to indicate that the rewarded does not have the possibility or does not feel the legitimacy to evaluate his activity himself. He needs the gaze of the other for this. He even needs it vitally. This dependence on the other's gaze is one of the reasons for suffering at work. Many burn-outs are the consequence of a perverse loop of seeking recognition. The actor produces work to obtain rewards or to avoid reproaches. In this sense, he serves a fundamental principle of human life: what gives all living beings the proof that they exist is the perception of the effect they have on their environment. This proof that he exists is at the service of the only reason for which the individual works: to realize himself, to make himself real. Seeing in the effect he has on the environment the proof that he is real.

Lacking narcissistic as well as existential feedback, he does "more of the same" by increasing his activity accepting the frustration of not having a reward while hoping for it. He can thus remain in this perverse loop until the end of his resistance.

The lack of feedback is a form of passive and symbolic violence that puts the actor in pain[2] and leads him to the only way out of this loop of manipulation or even self-manipulation: the "burn out" or sometimes even suicide.

  • Recognition and the psyche

Recognition also has the meaning of recognizing oneself in a mirror or recognizing someone in the street. How can this meaning of the word recognize help us to open another way of recognition?

The activity of man at work is unthinking. Not that man at work does not think about what he does, but rather in the sense that he can only regulate his behavior in the course of action to the extent that this regulation remains pre-reflective, non-conscious.

The work of managerial accompaniment through the analysis of practices consists precisely in seizing the pre-reflection of the action - graspable through attention to the sensory indicators of experience in the account of the practice - and reflecting it. In this sense, practice analysis consists of training in the cognitive gesture of reflection[4].

Without this work of reflection it is very difficult to have an idea of what one is really doing. It happens quite often that in the feedback from co-professionalization groups, some participants conclude, "I don't necessarily do anything differently than before, but now I know what I am doing and that changes everything." The great suffering of the actor at work, and mainly of the management professions, lies in the fact that it is very difficult to have a clear idea of what one really does and of the cause and effect links between one's actions and the results of one's actions. It is the eternal question of the manager: What can allow me to know if what I do is my job? Am I doing it right?

Sometimes the manager's efforts lead him to a feeling of failure because he does not get the expected result: but is his failure due to his incompetence or are the double constraints of the organization that have put him in helplessness? Most of the time it is the second hypothesis that is true. The organization can often be incapacitating as it can also allow the individual to express his power. In this case, the result obtained has no direct link with the manager's competence. Nothing in what the manager perceives allows him to know if his success or failure is due to him and his competence. The result is then a distorting mirror of his competence, of his power.

In a way, the man at work is often in the same situation as the vampires of our legends: he may widen his eyes, but he does not reflect himself. To reflect himself without passing through the subjective judgment of the other, it is necessary to pass through the detour of introspection and the analysis of his practice. The double meaning of the word reflection thus finds all its reason to exist.

The actor needs to reflect in order to continuously construct the meanings that allow him to permanently adjust his theory in act[5], the philosophy of his action. And at the same time the actor needs to reflect on his reality in order to see himself: to have an idea of what he is doing in order to recognize himself. To recognize himself as one recognizes himself in a mirror. To have an idea of one's reality through the reflection of one's actions.

Analysis of practices and self-recognition

Dependence on the gaze of the other can represent a risk of manipulation or self-manipulation. In any case it is usually a major waste of energy. All the efforts that each person makes to obtain feedback on oneself from others are wasted energy. If only because what the other sees in our behavior is not what we do but what he sees through his filters. We never have access to the other, only to the relationship we have to the other.

One of the projects of a practice analysis work can be to allow actors to build a capacity to recognize themselves: to see who they are and what they really do in their practices.

To recognize oneself

This capacity to recognize oneself has the double advantage of making the actor attentive to the value of these acts and of getting out of the hazardous judgment of the one who cannot see himself and who tends to interpret environmental indicators as signs of his value.

This is a way to build a certain integrity, an ability to no longer depend on external evaluations to assess oneself, to make one's decisions in complete serenity. This integrity is the foundation of self-confidence, as shown by some of the verbatim feedback from the groups:

  • -"I know what I'm doing and I'm doing it with full knowledge of the facts."
  • -"With hindsight, it has given me elements to be more sure of myself and more legitimate to consider myself maybe a little more."
  • -"questioning myself but without devaluing myself..."
  • gives courage and self-confidence.

But it is also a way to train the actor to a certain criticism of his perceptions and to the permanent elaboration of the philosophy of his action. It is in this sense a tool for adaptability and continuous learning.


BISMUTH D 2005 - L'analyse de pratiques de manager - Hermès

PASTRE P. 1999 La conceptualisation dans l'action: bilan et nouvelles perspectives
Revue: Education Permanente N° 139 pp 13 à 35

PASTRE P. 1999 Travail et compétences: un point de vue de didacticien.
Revue Formation Emploi N° 67 Numéro spécial: Activité de travail pp 109 à 124

PIAGET J 1964: Six études de psychologie - Paris - Denoel

PIAGET J 1980: Psychologie et épistémologie. Pour une théorie de la connaissance - Paris Denoel Gonthier

SARTRE JP 1947 - Huis clos - Gallimard


[1] J.P. Sartre: Huis clos. théatre

[2] In the sense of a parcel waiting at the post office

[3] Psyche: mirror in Greek

[4] In the sense of Piaget see bibliography

[5]P.Pastré see bibliography

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