On Recognition and Acknowledgement

May 03, 2016
Antonia Clews

See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.

Listening to you I get the music.
Gazing at you I get the heat.
Following you I climb the mountain.
I get excitement at your feet!
Right behind you I see the millions.
On you I see the glory.
From you I get opinions.
From you I get the story.

Roger Daltrey

Imagine if these words were said about you? You’d probably get a positive sense of yourself, of being seen by another, of being felt by another. Of your impact being appreciated. We all need someone to ‘get’ us.

One of the most common core values clients identify in their life is acknowledgement or recognition. A value is one’s judgement of what is important in life and it’s an innate driver for our behaviour, responses and decisions. It’s an underpinning, guiding principle of what matters to us and is related to our purpose and meaning making. We have many broad values, but particular values determine how we are in relation to others and in our life. Identifying our key values is a crucial part of the coaching process. If how we are living is out of alignment with our core values, we will feel unhappy.

Acknowledgement is often described by clients as a need, and usually within the context of the work environment. One client candidly described this “I need praise to feel like I’m doing a good job”; another “I need to know I’m needed”, others described it as “I need positive feedback”. There may be other elements such as the need for reassurance, low confidence and self-criticism in the mix, the need to know that we are doing well, but it’s quite simple. Acknowledgement and recognition make people feel their effort is noticed, their contribution is valued, that it’s worth making the effort because it has an impact and is appreciated by others. We want a response, preferably a positive one, as this motivates us.

Take away the work context from this description and it’s a more fundamental human requirement. At its core, recognition is the acknowledgement of someone earning consideration. To acknowledge is to validate and express not just approval or value, but the right for someone to be seen or heard. Further to this is the acknowledgement of achievement. But it’s not just what we do, it’s who we are – in relationship with another. We all need to feel valued, appreciated by others. We both need and are motivated by positive ‘strokes’. These could be in the form of compliments, comments, gestures and actions. We are so driven to seek response that we may even seek or generate negative strokes, or responses, just to get a reaction or attention from another.

I often think about the difference acknowledgement makes to our sense of self when I see people walk past homeless people, literally refusing to acknowledge their presence. We don’t have to give money, but to give eye contact is to give recognition, humanity. The eye contact of a stranger is an act of recognition. A smile. If we are not acknowledged we are ghosts. To not be seen, let alone heard. To me, one of the rudest behaviours is shopkeepers who don’t acknowledge you are waiting even if they are busy doing something else. To acknowledge you are seen is to communicate awareness. We feel eye contact, or the lack of it, at a deeply personal level because it’s a form of connection and we as social beings are sensitive to it. It goes beyond manners or politeness because it’s so fundamental to our being in the world. To refuse recognition can be perceived as an insult.

The extent acknowledgement was met in our childhood may well affect how we seek it, or how much we need it as an adult. In a baby the basic need is eye contact. As a child to be seen but not heard, goes beyond an issue of noise towards denial of an individual’s voice.“I really hear” (you) is a phrase, often adopted in talking therapies, to distinguish a depth of registration or feeling that is different to listening. There’s a similar sense of this when we talk about being really ‘seen’ by someone. Multi-dimensional, ‘got’. We need to be seen, heard and felt to know we exist, to connect, to be in relationship.

Our autonomy is often expressed through a desire to contribute, to make an impact, so that we have some significance to our existence. We are part of something. We live in resonance and response to those around us. We have impact and contribute through being. We seek to know how we are being through the experience of another.

‘People pleasers’ may get to a point of resentment eventually, when they become fed up with putting so much of their energy into others.The anger of being the ‘hero’ is in feeling unappreciated. Often the sense of self may be being wrapped up in feeling valued and needed by others (the root of co-dependency) and a way of getting that need met may be to go out of the way to please someone. Wanting recognition but never asking for it directly can set up a problematic dynamic where we may be expecting others to read our needs. And in order to have that need met, we first need to acknowledge what’s important to us, what our motivations are, our needs and values around recognition, how we behave in order to get those needs met and how we feel and behave when we don’t feel appreciated. Above all we need to value ourselves first.

If we can really feel a person, that’s a deeper level of recognition; a reciprocal responsiveness. There is a reciprocity inherent in recognition; for as well as being reticent in asking for it, we are often reserved in showing and verbalising appreciation of others. This is at the heart of a healthy, balanced and respectful relationship in any context. So there are elements of self-awareness and awareness within appreciation. We need to pause to express gratitude for those around us.

We can’t always be ‘got’. But we have all earned consideration.


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