The 10 Most Popular Coaching Exercises in Digital Coaching

CoachHub · 17 September 2021 · 7 min read

Although every coaching relationship looks different, the ultimate goal is the same: Help people realize their potential. At CoachHub, we define coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to be the best version of themselves. The coaching process is future-focused and goal-oriented with the intent to activate internal and external resources. While coaching is a very tailored and individual process, many coaches use common coaching exercises that are backed by research and proven effective. Here are ten of the most popular exercises used in digital coaching.

1. Self-assessments and self-reflective coaching exercises

To gain clarity of individual goals and growth potential, while also building self-awareness, most digital coaching relationships begin with some type of psychometric test or self-reflection assessment.
These initial assessments can help clarify a coachee’s current status and also provide a baseline to measure future progress against. CoachHub Senior Behavioral Scientist, Liz Pavese, Ph.D., said that at the beginning of a coaching journey, an assessment can help a coachee reflect on their strengths and areas for development.
Some common self-assessments used in digital coaching include the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO), the 16PF Questionnaire, and the CliftonStrengths Assessment. All CoachHub coachees complete an initial self-assessment before their first digital session.
Organizational psychologist and business coach, Anne Scoular, says assessments can improve the coaching process in two main ways: (1) Assessments can help a coach better understand their client early in the coaching process, and (2) “…assessments in coaching can be the single most powerful takeaway [for coachees].”

2. Debriefing real-time feedback

While self-assessment and self-reflection are large parts of the coaching process, it’s also important to debrief feedback from managers and peers. According to HBR, “When leaders find out that others see them differently than they intend or want to be seen, they have a simple choice. Either they redefine how they see themselves, or they change their behavior.”

Although many companies like Deloitte and Microsoft have moved beyond —described by some as “a relic of the industrial age”—progressive organizations still recognize the value of pulse checks, in-depth catchups, and real-time 360 reviews. Debriefing this type of feedback can be useful in a coaching relationship.

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3. Strategic goal development

As a solution-focused process, Pavese said goal-setting is an incredibly important part of coaching. During the goal development phase, a coachee and coach decide on milestones, exercises and micro-learnings. The goal-setting process will vary by coach, but most goals are derived from the gaps or blindspots illuminated by initial assessments.
During a time of organizational turbulence amid COVID-19, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) worked with CoachHub to support its workforce. Recent data shows that 89% of coachees reported that the coaching helped them achieve their goals. Goal-setting exercises are an essential piece of the digital coaching process.
Goals may include specific objectives like increasing employee engagement, setting performance targets like strengthening conflict management skills or talent development objectives like empowering first-time managers. Each individual goal is then typically defined using a structure like the SMART framework which is used to create specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals.

4. Thoughtful journaling exercises

Journaling is a versatile exercise used across contexts and coaching relationships. Coaches may recommend open-ended journaling or teach specific journaling frameworks like the Conflict Coaching Road Map for Journaling, a framework that helps professionals become aware of their conflict style and better manage conflict.

SHRM reports that journaling can be used to “…gain awareness of emotions and behaviors and to track progress toward goals.” If a coachee doesn’t know where to begin with journaling, a coach may offer prompts. Organizational Behavior Professor, Nancy Adler, recommends journaling in response to questions like, “How am I feeling right now?” and “What deserves my highest-quality attention in my leadership, my life, and the world?”

Pavese said another common type of journaling is future self journaling. Future self journaling asks a coachee to envision and describe their future—detailing what it feels and looks like. “As they create that vision of their future self,” shared Pavese, “…it can help them along their journey by figuring out how to better align their goals to get in more alignment with their future self?”

5. Identifying core values and principles

Values exercises are popular in digital coaching because, as Pavese said, “Clearly defined core values provide a really strong and important starting point for understanding what’s important to you. A coachee’s core values often serve as an important compass—helping coachees make decisions and take aligned action.” Research also shows that values alignment can drive employee engagement.

Coaches will often assign microtasks to help coachees define their core values and increase their sense of purpose. Common exercises involve ranking values from a list, completing a values card activity, or creating a life-wheel. This is an important step because when a coachee defines their values they can more easily maximize the work that gives them a sense of purpose (and minimize tasks that do not align with their values). In fact, 91% of CoachHub coachees increased their sense of purpose after digital coaching.

6. Gratitude coaching exercises

Gratitude practices are a common exercise used in digital coaching because, according to Harvard Health, “…most of the studies published on [gratitude] support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.” Pavese shared that, “If a coachee is looking to develop a more open and optimistic mindset, a gratitude practice can help expand their optimism muscle.”

One of the most popular gratitude exercises used by coaches is Three Good Things, a practice created by American Psychologist, Martin Seligman. This exercise asks coachees to write down three things that went well each day and their causes. Researchers found that the Three Good Things exercise led to an increase in happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months.

7. Developing and rehearsing communication skills

Communication is key, especially amid uncertainty (as illustrated throughout the pandemic). In fact, CoachHub research shows that communication is the most frequently used soft skill by middle- and senior-level managers. As a result, many digital coaches focus on helping coachees develop and practice their communication skills using frameworks like nonviolent communication and active listening.

For example, to help a coachee develop their active listening skills, they may role-play with their coach by reflecting the emotions of the speaker back to them. This could sound like, “If I understand you correctly, you are feeling frustrated because your manager told you one thing and your colleague told you something different. Is that accurate?”

8. Cultivating emotional regulation and resilience

Resilience, or the ability to cope with a difficult or stressful situation, is one of the top professional development goals of coachees. Fortunately, coachees can build resilience and learn emotional regulation, a skill closely tied to resilience. CoachHub data shows that 85% of managers who have received coaching from CoachHub outperform their peers in soft skills such as agility and resilience.

To help coachees build emotional resilience, coaches use a variety of different exercises. Common microtasks include having coachees name their emotions (i.e. say how they feel), practice mindfulness techniques, and take detachment breaks.

9. Coaching exercises that celebrate wins and accomplishments

Coaching can provide space and time for professionals to slow down, recognize their accomplishments, and celebrate—something a lot of folks struggle to do. Celebrating means giving yourself permission to stop and enjoy what you already achieved.

To help a coachee celebrate their accomplishments during a session, a coach may ask something like, “How will you celebrate the achievement of this goal?” Depending on the professional, they may treat themselves to a massage, buy a treat or note it in their gratitude journal. If the individual struggles to celebrate their accomplishments, a coach may encourage them to create a list of celebration ideas that they can easily pull from in the future.

10. Identifying and activating individual strengths

As part of CoachHub’s holistic coaching framework, coachees work toward their purpose by discovering their strengths. Strengths-based coaching is a common approach used by many coaches in the digital coaching space.

The strengths approach in coaching encourages development by building on existing strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. “Becoming more of who you actually are is at the core of my coaching,” shared CoachHub Coach, Dieter Wunderlich, “My trademark is that of the strengths coach. I help people discover and use what they are naturally strong and great at.”

Although coaching is a very individual and personalized process, research points coaches toward proven exercises and frameworks. Self-assessments are often effective starting points because they help coachees better understand themselves, and they help coaches better understand their clients. Coaching sessions are also psychologically safe spaces where professionals can discuss tough workplace feedback and cultivate emotional resilience. Through digital coaching, folks can grow into highly effective, inspiring leaders.

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