When it comes to performance reviews and feedback, it can be very difficult to really hear what we are actually being told.
Part of this, as you have indicated, is about perception. We all have a "percpetion filter" that governs how we see the actions of others and what they do and say to us. Two people - as you have found out - can see the same meeting or discussion in very different ways - its the same meeting, they just percieve things differently.
So - I would suggest you don't have a "perception problem", so much as you don't really understand the nature of your own perception filter - and that of your managers - and never really consider that your first and instincitive reaction, response, or understanding may not be the one that produces the outcome you want.
In leadership/management type training this is often refered to as understanding communication styles, which is a complex field. To reduce the complexity, various personality/psychology models are employed; the first simple one I came across was the DOPE model, as it is quick and simple, but others like MBTI are more comprehensive and widespread.
The communication style is important when dealing with negative feedback. Turning negative feedback into a positive outcome (a win-win) is hard because it tends to trigger negative reactions in people - either aggressive ("yeah, that might be true, but you always...") or passive/aggressive (ignoring, withdrawing) - essentially the "fight or flight" resposes. Sometimes both - such as storming off angrily and resigning.
We get these responses because we feel threatened, especialy if we have a positive perception of ourselves (self image), and we are being told aspects of this are not correct.
As a result, managers will often try to soften the blow when they need to give negative feedback, and use indirect language or give a lot of positive feedback alongside the negative. The disadvantage of this is that someone who is confident, with a strong self-image might "perception filter" out the negative aspects, and focus only on the positive.
So - they key things I would suggest are :
- find out more about your communication style, and that of others
You could do this through a self test, but courses are usually better as the course leader will coach you through some aspects of this. DOPE is a good starting point.
- understand how you communicate under stress or pressure
Under stress - like a performance review with negative feedback or a customer complaint - we tend to use a much more limited range of communication styles, and all to often our first, instinctive response is one that takes us further from our desired outcome.
- pause and reflect
Take time to think over the options, don't just go with your first reaction. Never try and "explain away" or "negotiate away" someones percepetion of your performance, but, if you disagree, try and think why they may see things this way.
- Seek first to understand and then be understood
This is one of the Seven Habits from Covey's book; they are covered in many management programmes and trainign courses. This is probably one of the most powerful in terms of receiving negative feedback, especially when it is more indirect.