Because even innocent compliments can come across all wrong
These days, I see a lot of men complaining that they don’t know how to safely compliment a woman.
There’s a lot more awareness of the various subtle (and not subtle) ways men can be creepy. And a lot of us are getting more comfortable not faking a smile when we get complimented by a guy who’s taking things too far.
It’s not good enough to just say whatever compliments come to your mind because those are often exactly the ones you should keep to yourself.
And even innocent and well-intentioned compliments can come across as suggestive or presumptuous when they’re delivered the wrong way or at the wrong time.
But not complimenting women at all isn’t the right approach, either.
Giving compliments is a way to be friendly and brighten someone’s day. You want to be able to spread the love, not keep it all buttoned up and tucked away.
It’s also a good way to build connections, and you don’t want to start isolating yourself from women because you can’t just be casual and comfortable with them.
And yeah, it’s also a way to test the waters and see how interested they are in you. Knowing how to compliment a woman properly will help you see if you’ve got an opening to start flirting without giving off any creepy vibes.
So, what’s the right way to compliment a woman? A lot of it depends on the situation, but these tips will help you say something nice without setting her on edge.
Compliment Something She Has Control Over
It’s easy to default to complimenting women for their physical appearance — their eyes, their cheekbones, whatever.
That can be fine, especially if you’re paying a compliment to someone you know really well. But when you’re just meeting someone or still getting to know her, saying nice things about her physical appearance isn’t always the right move.
When you compliment a woman on something she didn’t have any control over, you usually put her in an awkward position. How is she going to respond to it? Agreeing with your compliment might make her feel vain. Waving it off might make her feel ungrateful.
She could just thank you, but that doesn’t give her a chance to keep the conversation moving.
If you compliment something she chose, like part of her outfit or a tattoo, it gives her the opportunity to accept the compliment without feeling weird about it (you’re complimenting her taste, not her genes). And that can open up more conversation — like telling you the story behind her tattoo or asking about yours — instead of just hitting a dead end.
Compliment Something Unique
No one likes getting a compliment that sounds fake or forced. And getting one sometimes sets off the creep alarms because guys who are just looking to pick up and get laid aren’t always going to pay close enough attention to a woman to give her anything other than generic compliments.
Anyone can tell a woman she’s pretty or has a great outfit, but it sounds a lot more sincere if you pick out something unique about the person you’re complimenting.
The one I get the most is about my hair color. It’s purple, so that stands out. For someone else, it could be her cool shoes or a cute turn of phrase she uses. It could be anything, really, as long as it’s not something you could say to just about any woman you’re talking to.
Make Sure It’s Not a Backhanded Compliment
Yeah, this one sounds obvious, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Sometimes, I think of paying someone a compliment and then I stop myself because I realize that it could easily be taken as an insult.
You might want to compliment a woman’s warmth or sweetness by saying “You remind me of my mom.” That comes from a good place, but you might accidentally imply that she looks old or isn’t sexy.
So, run the compliment through your head before saying it out loud. Is it going to come across the way you meant it to, or could it be misinterpreted? Could it sound insulting or less than flattering?
Don’t Put Others Down
Compliments are meant to elevate people, and that’s all yours should be doing. Avoid trying to make her feel better by putting other people down.
When you tell her she’s funny, just leave it at that. Don’t add “Unlike all the boring women at this party.”
First, that takes the focus off her. It can even come across like a backhanded compliment. Like, is she actually funny, or just funny compared to all the riff raff around here?
It’s also got a competitive vibe and not everyone is into that. I’m not the kind of person who feels good when other people are getting trashed, and the woman you’re complimenting might feel the same way.
There’s also a rule we’re all told about guys. Don’t just look at the way he treats you — pay attention to how he treats the waitstaff. If he’s nice to you but a jerk to others, he’s still a jerk.
Putting down other people with your compliment is basically you being crappy to the waitstaff. It won’t put you in the best light.
Ease Up on the Sexual Stuff
A lot of guys would be extremely flattered to get sexualized compliments from a woman. So, they think it would be flattering for them to give some, too. In some cases, sure, but it’s usually a big misstep.
The difference has to do with safety. Guys can read sexualized compliments as flirty and fun or as an indication that the night is going in the direction they want it to. When guys start throwing out sexualized comments, though, it can sound our alarm bells. We start wondering if we’ll have to fend you off later, if you’re going to try to take things too far or get the wrong idea, or it might just make us feel self-conscious and uncomfortable.
It can also change the tone of the exchange. She thought you were just trying to get to know her or enjoying her company, but then you made that sly comment and now she thinks she’s just someone you’re trying to fuck.
So, keep the compliments about her personality, her quirks, and her achievements. If you decide to compliment her appearance (though again, that’s dicey), don’t make it pervy — mention her cute dimples, not the way her ass fills her jeans.
And even if you are hoping to fuck her, that doesn’t mean you need to jump right to the sexy stuff. There are ways to show you like her, are interested in her, and even escalate things with her without having to drop a bunch of innuendos.
What’s Your Relation to Her?
Are you a good friend? That gives you some leeway to compliment her more freely. Are you on your third date with her? Maybe you can be a little more forward.
But are you some dude she ran into at the coffee shop? If so, proceed with more caution.
What your relation is to her will make a difference to what kind of compliments are appropriate. That means you have to be careful about reading the room. Just because her best friend just said her legs look great doesn’t mean she wants to hear that kind of thing from a guy she just met.
And if you’re her supervisor, her boss, or anyone with any authority over her, keep the compliments professional in nature. Don’t take it further than that with women who might feel obligated to put up with things that make them uncomfortable because of your position.
Keep Compliments Casual if She’s Working
Always keep things friendly and casual if you’re complimenting someone who’s at work.
Remember, she’s being paid to be there. She can’t just up and leave. Being polite to you might even be part of her job. Don’t use that to put her in a difficult place.
Because she’s stuck there, she can feel trapped if you start being a little too forward. So, make sure your compliments are super appropriate, don’t give them too frequently, and back off if she seems at all like she’s not into it or faking a smile. Otherwise, she might feel like she needs to get her supervisor, and that’s not something either of you want.
Don’t Feel Entitled to Anything in Return
A compliment is something you give to someone. It’s not an exchange.
If you’re giving a compliment to try to start something, you have to accept that your attempt might fail. Not every compliment goes anywhere, and that’s fine. She doesn’t owe you a conversation or a smile just because you said something sweet to her.
A compliment isn’t payment for her time or her attention.
If you went in with some expectations, you might feel insulted if she doesn’t give you anything in return. Keep those feelings to yourself and never get defensive or lash out at her because you didn’t get the reaction you were hoping for.
Even if she reacts negatively, that’s fine. There are a million reasons a woman might not welcome a compliment.
She might be busy or preoccupied with something.
Maybe she’s going through a breakup or a rough patch with her closest friend.
Maybe you’re the sixth guy to interrupt her that day.
Maybe she just wants to drink her coffee in peace before she gets to work.
And maybe she knows, like a lot of us know from experience, that some guys won’t leave you alone if you’re too nice when they pay you a compliment.
So, try not to take it personally. Just be happy that you’ve done your good deed for the day by saying something nice.
Spread the Love
We can all use more compliments, but it’s important to do it right. Thanks to years of weird and uncomfortable experiences, most women have a hard time with certain types of compliments. So, before saying something nice to her, make sure it will actually make her feel good.
And if you’re having trouble figuring out if the thing you want to say is okay, remember that you don’t have to say anything if you’re not sure. Sometimes, the best compliment you can pay a woman is to keep it to yourself.