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Former Ventura Official Files Suit, Saying a Quiz Led to Job Difficulties : A Clash Over Personalities

February 25, 1988|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

When he was hired as Ventura's transportation and traffic engineer last fall, one of the first things Nazir Lalani did on the job was visit a psychologist.

Under the therapist's supervision, Lalani took a short personality quiz that city officials hoped would give co-workers a general idea of his character and communication style.

In doing so, he joined more than 300 city employees who have taken the quiz over the last two years in the aim of promoting teamwork throughout City Hall, the Police Department and the Fire Department.

"To me, it's been very helpful," Lalani said. "I've learned a lot from recognizing certain personality traits and adjusting my own style accordingly."

But the reviews have not all been good. In a $6.3-million lawsuit against the city, a former financial officer has alleged that information shared with the psychologist as a result of the quizzing caused him to be denied a promotion.

'Psychological Discipline'

Fred L. Patrick, who last week resigned as assistant to the finance director, contends that he was stripped of his authority and forced to submit to a therapy program after disgruntled employees complained about his management style.

"They used the psychologist to discipline Fred Patrick, and that's not proper," his attorney, Richard A. Weinstock, said. "The psychologist shouldn't be in the position of deciding who is right and who is wrong."

City officials declined to comment on the pending litigation but defended the personality profile as an effective tool for minimizing conflicts in the work environment. Such tests, they point out, have been standard tools in the business world for years.

"It's been very positive," City Manager John Baker said. "If you're going to work together as a team, you've got to figure out how to best approach people. You've got to learn to accommodate other people and their styles."

The personality quiz used by Ventura, which is the only city government in Ventura County to employ such tests, is based on a set of 24 questions contained in a booklet known as the Personal Profile System.

Each question lists a set of four descriptive terms, such as gentle, persuasive, humble and original. Another sample set consists of the words attractive, God-fearing, stubborn and sweet. The respondent is then given seven minutes to decide which of the words in each set best describes his work behavior, and which describes him the least.

The results are graphed according to four general personality traits--dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance--from which 15 classical personality profiles are drawn.

Developed by psychologist John Geier and published in Minneapolis by the Carlson Learning Co., the quiz has been taken by more than 6 million people since the early 1960s, according to a spokesman for the firm.

"By responding to different words, you can very quickly determine the type of personality style you have," said Barbara Wressler, the company's marketing services director.

While it would seem easy for a clever test-taker to gear his responses to what he thinks his supervisors want to hear, that is seldom the case, said Sam Herbert, the Ventura psychologist who oversees the process for the city.

Getting Along With Co-Workers

Herbert, whose firm, Synergetics, is paid about $25,000 a year for administering the quiz to City Hall employees and council members, said people generally use the test not to secure promotions or raises, but simply to get along better with their co-workers.

After administering the test to new employees, Herbert said he usually spends about a day and a half teaching them how to best respond to the varying personality types.

In addition to the City Hall fees, his firm is paid $200,000 a year by the Police Department, although his duties there include a wide variety of additional psychological services. The Fire Department employs a different consultant, but Chief Bob Horne said the expense is negligible because the fire captains have been trained to do most of the testing themselves.

Although no employee is required to take the quiz, city officials say that none has objected when asked if he was interested in participating. And while the results of the quiz are private, they say, most employees are eager to share their personality profiles with co-workers.

"It forces you to sit down and take the time to think about your working relationships," Horne said. "The end result is that you're all speaking a common language."

In City Hall, for instance, Lalani works with an "S-type" person who fears abrupt change and says that he adjusts his style by introducing new ideas more slowly.

"I say, 'What do you think of this? I don't say, 'Do it this way!' " Lalani said. "If I did, I would alienate that person."

Public Works Director Shelley Jones, who is a detail-oriented "C-type" person, says that he often skips over a lot of the specifics when talking with a dominant "D-type" person, such as Baker, the city manager.

"I just have to get to the bottom line," Jones said.

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