07/07/2014 12:44 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2014

Four Steps to Read a Meeting

As a business owner I tend to have a lot of meetings with many different kinds of people. Through the years I've come to rely on the four levels of perception and engagement, which I learned while studying at the Four Winds Society. It was there I learned how to assess a situation both physically and instinctually. These four states of perception allow someone to get a sense of a situation quickly and accurately. The more you practice them, the more accurate they become.

The Four Steps are as follows:

1) Physical: This is the level we are probably most familiar with. Our five senses inform the physical perception of a situation. What is the person wearing? What kind of suit? What kind of shoes? Are they fit or out of shape? How is the room decorated? We tend to make assumptions based on what we see and on our previous experiences.

We also read and relay messages through body language at the physical level. Are their arms crossed? Is the smile genuine? How strong is the hand shake? You've probably heard the suggestion to mimic someone's body language to put them at ease.

A good example of a physical level engagement is when Mark Zuckerberg wore a hoodie to a Wall Street meeting, upsetting many of the people there. His outfit sent a clear message. "This is who I am and I'm not changing for you."

Before attending a meeting I will consider who the audience is and dress accordingly, based on the image I want to portray. Our reaction to the physical world around us is a natural one, but one that we can and should be conscious of.

2) Emotional: It may sound odd to some but anyone in business knows there is a lot of emotion at work, usually flowing just under the surface. What is the feeling that you get, walking into a meeting? What does your gut feeling tell you? Scientists have found brain cells in the stomach, bringing a new meaning to the term, "trust your gut." Do we like this person, or do we want to run out of the room?

Usually, in a meeting, the emotional perception level takes place during the small talk. That short time after the introduction but before the real meeting starts. This is the point where you get a feel for each other. Listen to what you are feeling and what your body is telling you.

3) Story: You might wonder, "What do stories have to do with business?" Everything actually. Everyone who walks into a meeting has a story that they bring in with them. These stories inform us of who we are and what role we play. Are you a small business trying to sign up a large company as a client? Are you a struggling start up? Are you a corporate titan? Are there heroes and villains in your story? These are all stories that follow us into our meetings and lives. Whatever your story, just know that it is there, and that it is just that, a story.

Most of the time, parties to a meeting try to get the other party to buy into their story. "I'm the best choice." "You're taking advantage." "Let's join forces." There are no limits to the stories we tell, or to the stories we tell ourselves. Just be aware, our stories can and do change.

4) Universal: Once you've seen the physical, felt the emotional and recognized the story, you've arrived at the Universal level. Quite simply, at this level, you are above it all. The clothes don't matter. Emotions are fleeting. The story is over. What you are left with is people talking. The Dalai Lama stated, "Everyone wants a happy life without difficulties or suffering." Here we recognize that no matter who is in a meeting, the differences are superficial. Getting to this level takes practice, patience and commitment, to see others, business and even the world for what it is. What is it? Let's find out.

The levels won't necessarily give you a business advantage but they will give you better insight. And with better insight you can make better decisions. Rather than blindly reacting to impulse, we can bring awareness and consciousness to our thoughts and actions. Why do I think this? Why do I feel this? What is my role here? What is it I want and why? By asking these questions we can be in a much better position to interact and engage on a conscious level and, ultimately, on a universal one.