Natalia never considered herself to be pretty enough to be a fashion model. She was, however, very proud of the way she carried herself. “I was raised in a middle-class family, and we learned as kids not to want what you don’t have, but to care about what you’ve been given,” she says.

Hence, when Steve told her she was an elegant dresser and had a subtle but classy way of turning heads in a room, Natalia was hooked. “No one had quite paid me a compliment in that way, one that really meant a lot to me,” she explains. “It made me feel that Steve was truly paying attention to me and not just patronizing me to get my affection.”

Paying a woman a compliment that she would actually love to hear is not difficult. It just comes down to knowing what to focus on. What follows below is a guide to zoning in on a few of a woman’s favorite compliments:

1. Start by flattering her mind. Many women consider their personalities — not their bodies or their wardrobes — to be their best attributes. John, an architect on the East Coast, picked up on that during his first date with Cheryl, a history professor.
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“I could tell that she was very proud of her work as a teacher and scholar, which is often a thankless job,” John says. “I have always been impressed with people such as Cheryl, so I applauded her about her extensive knowledge and her ability to expound on a topic. She was very flattered by that, because most people thought of her as bookish and reserved.”

John also complimented Cheryl about what she had achieved in her life through education. “I was so impressed that she was the first person in her family to not only go to college, but put herself through school,” he recalls. “I could tell that meant a lot to her.”

2. Be specific about physical flattery so it doesn’t get misinterpreted. “Don’t just say ‘that’s a nice dress’ — zone in on what about the dress makes it so great-looking on her,” says Curtis L., a business owner in Chicago who tries to compliment his matches about their particular attributes on a date-by-date basis. “With clothes, for example, I enjoy telling a woman that the color of her dress or jacket really flatters her skin, or that the style makes her look dignified and business-like,” he adds. “I also like to compliment women on something subtle, such as the shape of their eyeglass frames or the sparkle of their earrings. Women seem to love that I notice those small things, as well as the overall package.”

3. Add a flamboyant touch for extra charm power. Maria, a hairstylist in Los Angeles, says she just melts when her boyfriend, Bill, turns up the heat with his stirring and seductive compliments. “For example, Bill will not just tell me that I look pretty, he’ll say that I look ravishing,” Maria says. “He’ll also gush a little over the deep color of my eyes, the softness of my hands or the smooth curves of my legs. They are true compliments, and I so love that he is being genuinely considerate and not at all condescending. It’s wonderful, and it is what many women want to hear.”

Jim Sulski is a freelance writer based in Chicago.