If you’ve ever struggled with feeling awkward at a social gathering, hating small talk, or feeling like an imposter in your own body, then this episode is for you. AJ Harbinger and Johnny Dzubak from The Art of Charm, Inc. share their secrets, backed by science, on how to become more comfortable, showing how building stronger connections with people and expressing yourself are indeed an art form. They talk about their separate histories, AJ being in science and Johnny in music, and how it eventually brought them together to form The Art of Charm. Together, they share about the things most people are struggling with, along with the importance of body language. Through their years of coaching experience, AJ and Johnny help everyday people learn how to become higher performers, better spouses, partners, and co-workers. Join them as they dig deep into human behavior, the science behind it, and figure out what we do and why we do it.
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The Art Of Charm With AJ Harbinger And Johnny Dzubak
If you’ve ever struggled with feeling awkward at a social gathering, you hate small talk, or have even dealt with feeling like an imposter, this episode is for you. I interview the hosts of the Art of Charm podcast, AJ and Johnny. They share their secrets backed by science on how to become more comfortable, stronger connections with people, and expressing yourself is an art form. Enjoy the episode.
I am honored to have two people I call friends that host their own amazing podcast called Art of Charm. There’s not one problem a guy can have that these two guys, AJ Harbinger and Johnny Dzubak, can’t solve. Let me give you a snapshot of who these guys are. Johnny said that his mission is to help guys overcome disruption in their lives, whether it’s in their relationships or their careers. AJ said he bought into that concept that hard work is what determines success. He has a scientifically-proven field-tested technique to show men the quickest path to success by building all kinds of relationships that last. Together, they have got everybody covered. Guys welcome to the show.
Thank you for having us.
You are quite an impressive duo. AJ, we’ll start with you. Give us a little more of the background that caused you to shift from, “Hard work is not enough. There are some other ways I can be successful.”
Growing up in a blue-collar household with a single dad, who instilled in me that hard work and education were the two paths that you had to cross for you to reach success. My dream, from a young age, was to become a doctor to check both of those boxes for my dad to make him proud. I found that I loved science. I soaked it up as a kid. When I got to college, I was excited to start pre-med and become a doctor. I got my first job in a hospital, I realized that I hated it. I did not feel comfortable interacting with people, I had some social anxiety being forced into a high-pressure situation, having to deal with patients and family members, and of course, all the type As that go into medicine. I felt like a fish out of water.
I didn’t want to let my dad down, but I didn’t feel like this was the correct path for me. After graduating from college, I decided to take a year off and try to figure out what it was that I wanted to do with that biology degree of mine. My dad told me, “You need to get a job. That’s numero uno important because you’ve just got your degree. You’ve got to put it to work, you’re going to be left behind in the workplace.” As much as I wanted to travel, I followed my dad’s advice. I got my job at a college as a researcher. As a junior researcher, you’re toiling away in the lab trying to get results for your boss so that you can publish that paper and get some credit. After about one year working on this cancer biology project, we were excited, both me and my boss, to get some fantastic results around head-neck cancer stem cells and publish. Of course, the benefits to my boss was this was going to put him on a tenured track as a professor. For me, I was hoping that this could springboard my career in science.Don't focus on your words. Focus on your body language. Go from small talk to smart talk. Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, I got some bad news that Stanford had scooped us and I’d actually never even heard that term. I was such a junior researcher. I didn’t know how articles were published. Essentially, Stanford’s lab reached the same conclusions as us but they were a little bit more successful at that point. They were able to get the results into the hands of a top-tier journal before us to be published. Of course, that put my boss into a tailspin. He was nervous about his career. He reached out to Stanford and made a deal to combine our results. In the process, I got zero credit for all the hard work I put in. That was my first major disappointment where that lesson of hard work that my dad told me was going to make me successful, didn’t pan out. I was distraught.
My dad cautioned me, “This happens, stick with it. Keep on this track of hard work and you’ll breakthrough,” but I did not see it that way. I was incredibly disenchanted with science at that point, not realizing that part of this was the fact that my lack of social skills was holding me back. I wasn’t persuasive enough. I didn’t have a voice to stand up for myself in this situation. Of course, I got trampled. My boss could sense that I was devastated. His idea was to have me apply for a PhD program at the University of Michigan. He was going to help me get in to make it up to me. I was cautious about this whole idea of a PhD. I wasn’t sure about science at this point, but he and my dad both said, “This is a great path for you.” I took the plunge. When I got to graduate school, it is not at all what I thought it was going to be.
When you talk about graduate school, you talk about students who have a passion for that, so much so that they want to continue with school. With me wavering internally, I developed a solid case of imposter syndrome. I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like everyone there was smarter than me, and my social anxiety shot through the roof. That’s essentially when I decided to start working on myself to try to figure out to unlock the social skills and the voice that I needed to get ahead in my career. I started the podcast with Johnny more than a decade ago, documenting that journey, how to understand the science behind building confidence and those social skills that you need to advance your career, to have better relationships in. I was also worried about my dating life. Looking at all of that launched what we call the Art of Charm podcast back then, and it turned into the training company that we have.
It’s become a movement from my perspective, and thinking of all the people that you’ve helped so much. Johnny, you have a little different story of origin with a little music background. I’d love to have you tell us about that.
I’m much like AJ. I was born in a blue-collar background. My dad was a factory worker, my mom was a hairdresser. My house was liberal, it was an arty house. My dad played in bands on the weekend. I had grown up watching them prepare and get ready, get all dressed up every Friday, Saturday night for this ritual of seeing my dad perform. Of course, as any young man, I gravitated towards that. They rehearsed in the basement, the instruments were always there. It was an easy thing for me to start tinkering around with music. The more I did, the more I was encouraged and I got a lot of positive reinforcement from performing and playing.
My value through that intrinsically got wrapped up in that action. As I have gotten older, I set off on a career in music growing up. Growing up at that time, where we’re talking about leaving the ‘70s into the ‘80s, that whole scene and then the ‘90s, more of the DIY college rock boom was going on. I wanted to be a part of that. At 21 years old, I had an opportunity to move to North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where that college music scene was taking off. I got to be in the presence of a lot of musicians and bands that I had grown up listening to. That was great. That was a lot of fun. I learned the industry through that place and that time as a talent buyer, club manager. Going on the road with my band and spending all of my waking moments in that world.
This is about the early 2000s. We’re out of the ‘90s. We’re moving to the 2000s and the music industry is changing. It’s unrecognizable to what I grew up with wanting to be a part of. It was rapidly changing and no one knew what it was going to be. You have to remember at this time, it was Napster. It was LimeWire. There were no streaming services yet. No one even saw that coming. The world that I wanted to be a part of, it didn’t exist anymore. You could make the argument that that industry and everything that I had worked for up until that point was basically pulled out from under me. The decision and the question were, “Do I want to continue working in a career that is unrecognizable from what I wanted to be a part of?” Along with the fact of, you don’t even know what it’s going to become. Everything that I was interested in, that just seemed passé. It was not there anymore.
I turned inward to do some work on myself to start asking those hard questions because I was going to need some hard answers of which direction was I going to go? It was at that point that I had chosen self-development as an opportunity to rediscover myself because I never spent much time on myself before. I had known what I wanted to do from an early age. When the obsession of music went into the obsession of self-development, I started implementing these little ideas that I had read about that infinitely and definitely changed my life to such a degree.
The joy and happiness that I was feeling, I was like, “I want more of this.” That dive into self-development, self-improvement, social skills, pitching, mindset shifts, and all these things were new, interesting, and fun that led to getting a job in self-development and meeting AJ. Seeing our paths crossing at that point and deciding that we were both interested to such a degree that it was worth venturing into business together and starting some work together. Building something that was bigger than both of us.
Like any good story, oftentimes, whether it’s a romantic comedy, or two people starting off in business, and you see, “Those guys worked well together.” Whether it’s Steve Jobs and Wozniak, there are many examples. Sometimes, in your particular case, you didn’t like or didn’t get along that well. Who wants to tell that story?
It’s funny when Johnny and I first crossed paths, I was in this podcast journey. I just started the podcast and started to realize that there was even a coaching opportunity in front of me. As the podcast started, it was more of a hobby to document my journey into developing my social skills, getting more confidence in my dating life, and ultimately upping my game, so to speak. As the podcast took off in popularity, we started to get an influx of listeners asking for coaching from me. I was still in graduate school at the time.
Hopping on the phone and coaching on the side, it was not sustainable, but the demand was there. We were trying to figure out if I couldn’t do the coaching, who else could do the coaching? Maybe we could refer some of these listeners to another company who does self-development work and coaching. I was invited to see Johnny in action down in DC. It’s funny because when people meet us, they always ask the same question. “I love everything about the Art of Charm and what you guys are about, but how are you two connected?” Not only do we look fairly different, but our personalities are also pretty different. When we first met, Johnny being rock and roll and me being a little bit more buttoned up and stiff at that time, I wouldn’t say that I made the greatest first impression on Johnny and vice versa.We owe it to ourselves and to the people who are around us to be at our best. Click To Tweet
What did stand out to me after that weekend of hanging out with and seeing Johnny in action was how much he cared about the clients. He was in a role that wasn’t the best fit for him. A company that wasn’t the best fit for him. What I took away from that weekend spent in DC was how much Johnny cared about the transformation that everyone was there hoping to accomplish. When we got back to Michigan and we were talking about, “What do you think,” comparing notes, that stood out to me. I remember that to this day vividly about him going above and beyond. When it came time to actually hire a coach to join the team and work on this amazing project together, Johnny was the first guy that I thought of, and we ended up striking a deal. Johnny moved out to New York to start our first location.
There are so many things the two of you have said that resonates with me. The feeling you had, AJ, of being an imposter and that imposter syndrome. The thing that I love about what you guys offer is you’ve been in the people’s shoes. You know what it feels like to be an imposter. I would say almost everyone, myself included, I’ve ever met has experienced that at multiple points in your life. It’s not like you handle that and you never feel like an imposter again. Johnny, when you were talking about finding your passion and you get to the point where you’re saying to yourself, “I want more of that.” What a great combination of, “I feel like an imposter to the journey of how can I get to the place?” “No, I want more of that. I deserve this and I want to be there.” Let’s dive into some of the big challenges that you see over and over again with people who may be great at their careers. The technical part, I call it the hard skills, but the soft skills of being a good listener, showing empathy, knowing how to feel comfortable in a company party, or something like that comes up over and over again. AJ, what’s the number one thing you see guys struggling with that you have figured out how to help them?People put too much emphasis on the words and not enough emphasis on their body language. Click To Tweet
The number one thing that we see time and time again, is that they put too much emphasis on the words and not enough emphasis on their body language. That side of what we communicate when we enter a room can be far more impactful than the words we choose to start that conversation. We often get in our heads that it’s the icebreaker or the opening line that matters the most. What science shows is actually, it’s two things that stand out in our memory. It is the high point when there’s the biggest burst of emotion, and the conclusion. When we talk about first impressions and conversations, many of us are focused on the wrong area. We’re not paying attention to the big win, which comes from that nonverbal communication.
How about you, Johnny?
There’s certainly a lot of over-analytical and problem-solving thinking when it comes to our careers. A lot of us have been to school where we have gotten good at critical thinking. When we look at problems, we’re able to figure out how to make things work if given enough time. When that lens gets turned on to ourselves, or that lens gets used in social situations, it all goes awry. The reason that it does is because socialization, self-expression is an art form. It is not an analytical, critical thinking issue.
What happens is, if that lens of critical thinking, analytical problem-solving puts clothes on your back, allows you to put food on your table, affords you a beautiful home, you know it works. You continue to double down on that lens that has worked well in all these other areas. All it does when it comes to art is it gives you more problems because that’s not the right tool for the job. Because you’ve been successful, it’s difficult to let go of that tool and learn a brand new one that you will be making mistakes with, that is going to be uncomfortable, and quite frankly, you’re going to fumble around with it. However, with the Art of Charm, it was our obligation and it was our duty to give the guys a safe environment in which they could use these new tools. Get some victories, start to feel good in using them that when they leave, they have everything that they need to continue developing the skills with them.
It reminds me of when my dad would take me to the parking lot that was deserted outside the church to practice my driving skills. When you drive stick shift for the first time, usually, it’s not smooth sailing. These new tools that you’re teaching about something out of people’s comfort zone, it’s not the same critical thinking that they’re used to using in social connections and interactions. You have to be willing to not be perfect out of the gate. That vulnerability issue must come up a lot. Do you see people struggling with the need to be perfect a lot, AJ, when they first come to you?
Absolutely. As Johnny was saying, that helps us in our career and it hurts us socially. When we set up the curriculum to train people in-person on the soft skills, the entire goal with the training is to get you outside of your comfort zone. That includes your hometown where failure has a social impact for you. Your reputation can take a hit. A lot of us, not only are we afraid of failing, we don’t want to do it where we live. We don’t want our friends and family or neighbors to see that happening as we’re trying to build out our charisma and supercharge our social skills.
For us, the goal as Johnny said is to create an environment that’s safe, like that church parking lot to practice in, to learn the lessons that a lot of us didn’t get in school. School oftentimes creates an environment that doesn’t allow the introverts to learn the social skills necessary. It caters more to the extroverts taking the lead. If you don’t have a lot of experience in this area, it can become daunting when your career demands social skills, leadership, and your communication to get that team to complete the project to get the results that your boss is after.
I want to add to that quickly. When you fail in using the tools that have gotten you the house, the car, and the nice bank account. When that tool does not work in these other areas, out comes the excuses that soften the blow of why you can’t figure this out. That needs to be detangled. The smarter you are, the more elaborate and complex these excuses become.
You become like a lawyer defending your excuses.
All of that needs to be detangled and be able to see yourself where you are and work on these problems for the way that they are, rather than trying to come at them through these complex webs of excuses. All of that needs to be deconstructed.
Not to sound scary and daunting. The fun part about this as well is in this group environment experience of learning and working on these skills together, you are seeing and hearing from strangers how you appear in the world. You’re getting that unfiltered feedback. Many of us have friends and family members who cuddle us and protect us, “You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. You’re a good-looking guy.”
They’re not telling us the hard truth. “You cross your arms, you furrow your brow, you talk down to people, your tonality is off.” There are many of these little signals that are completely driving people away from us that we are unaware of. The people in our life that matter oftentimes either look past them because they love us, or they themselves don’t have the tools to communicate them.
I have seen you guys in action. If someone asked me, “What does the Art of Charm Bootcamp do, or what is it that people get?” I go, “They teach people how to go from repelling to becoming magnetic in social situations,” because when you described all those things that we’re unconsciously doing that repel people, and you turn that off. Suddenly, their natural magnetism comes out, and hence, the charm that everybody’s talking about. Does that resonate with you?
There are two things I want to ask before I let you go. One is this concept of, is it possible that you can teach people how to enjoy small talk who absolutely hate it? AJ, would you mind answering that and then we’ll jump to Johnny’s insight.
The key here is that many of us when we are in small talk, we are paying attention and listening to the wrong details and information. That’s why we feel like we are stuck in small talk. The best conversationalist can listen at a deeper level than just the surface level information that often gets exchanged in small talk. They can read the other person’s emotions. They can recognize emotional bids that actually open up the conversation so that deep enthralling, exciting, compelling conversation that we’re all looking for.People don't remember what you say or what you do. They only remember how you made them feel. Click To Tweet
We’re stuck focused on these minute details that don’t matter. We get bogged down in the weather and what someone does instead of what enlivens them. What are they passionate about? What excites them? Those are much more interesting conversation topics but when we feel a little nervous. When we feel a little judged or uncertain, or we’re worried about putting out our best first impression, we often play small. We often focus on details that don’t matter in that conversation.
We’re focusing on the wrong things. My question for you, Johnny, is it possible that when people attend your Art of Charm Bootcamp that they can go from being the kind of guy that their wife or girlfriend has to babysit at a party to being somebody that doesn’t have to be worried about that? They can actually engage with strangers.
Absolutely. First of all, get people comfortable using these new tools. It’s almost as if you’ve unchained these people who have been imprisoned by this lack of skills for so long. All of a sudden, now that they’ve been unchained, they’re able to see this progress. Not only are they full pedal to the metal then because this is a new world to them that has been opened up. They get excited about all the brand-new opportunities that they have never been able to partake in before. Those new opportunities all lie socially. You’re not making the excuses about having to go to this party where your girlfriend is going to know everybody. You have an opportunity to get excited, open the doors to new opportunities. Be somebody that she’s going to be more excited to be with when she sees you holding court, owning the room, and chatting people up.
It reminds me of life before Art of Charm Bootcamp is the black and white Wizard of Oz experience. You’re dragging yourself through and how everything’s bland. After people attend your Bootcamp or take your online classes, suddenly, everything comes into color. They can’t wait to explore things that they’ve avoided because they didn’t have the tools. How can people find out about this magic recipe that you offer that’s proven and backed up by science, and I’ve seen work firsthand?
First and foremost, thank you so much for having us on the show. We have a podcast as well that is the best place for all of your followers to check out and learn these fundamentals of social skills. We have special episodes called our Toolbox Episodes where we go deep into the science of the soft skills that were not taught in school. If you’re interested in any of our coaching or Bootcamp programs, you can check those out at TheArtOfCharm.com.
I can’t thank you both enough. Is there one last thing each of you want to leave the readers with? A word, a quote, a book that you like?
The one that jumps out at me is that people don’t remember what you say. People don’t remember what you do. They only remember how you made them feel.
You’ve certainly made me feel both on this interview and in-person when I’ve had the opportunity to be with you, excited, passionate, and happy. Johnny, what about you?
We all know what we need to do to be at our best when it comes to eating, sleeping, and exercise. When we’re at our best, our lives are better. When our lives are better, the people’s lives around us are better. We owe it to ourselves and to the people who are around us to be at our best. Anything that you can do to enhance your performance to be at your best, it is your obligation.
What a great note to end on. If we’re at our best, it’s not just for us, it’s for the people that we care about. When we show up being our best, not only do we bring out the best in other people that we care about and our friends, but we are able to make a bigger impact in the world. You are certainly doing that. AJ and Johnny, thank you for being on the show.
Thank you for having us, John.
Thank you, John.
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