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May 12, 2014 9:29 AM EDT

A new survey finds that what makes us satisfied at work isn’t what’s in our hearts; it’s what’s in our wallets. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 60% of American workers surveyed last year said pay/compensation was “very important” to them, making it the top-ranked priority.

The last time pay topped the rankings was back in 2006-2007, but SHRM pointed out that companies have held wages down by cutting or eliminating raises. In this climate, it shouldn’t be a surprise that more workers are saying, “show me the money.”

If you feel underpaid, you’re not alone. One recent survey found that 40% of American worker bees think they’re not being paid fairly. Fortunately ,other research indicates we’re finally getting to the point where we can do something about this, as the job market improves enough that good employees can start holding out for a bigger paycheck.

So, if you think it’s about time you got a raise, here are some expert tips for making your pitch.

Figure out if you actually deserve one. Yep, it’s kind of harsh, but if you honestly can’t come up with good reasons why you should be paid more, how are you going to convince your boss that you’re worth more money? In a Businessweek article titled, “Why You Might Not Deserve the Raise You Think You Do,’ executive coach Karen Cates says it’s a myth to assume you should be entitled to a raise after working at a job for a year. It’s your performance, not the calendar, that should be your strongest argument. “Can you document your contributions? If so, you should pursue an increase,” she says. “Treat asking for a raise as a conversation based on objective information.”

Speak confidently and professionally. “When asking for a raise, don’t waffle [or] sound hesitant,” says Monique Honaman, CEO and partner at consulting company ISHR Group. Avoid phrases like “I think” or “If you want,” which convey uncertainty and don’t do a good job selling your pitch. “Be assertive and concise with your request,” Honaman says. This doesn’t mean it has to confrontational; in fact, experts say that’s just as bad as sounding wishy-washy. “Don’t threaten to leave if you aren’t given a raise. That’s unprofessional,” Honaman says. What’s more, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll damage your relationship with your boss, which isn’t very smart, since they’re probably the one who has to go to bat for you further up the corporate ladder.

Make your case with data. Start out by laying out the value you’ve brought to the company, says Gary Magenta, an executive coach and senior vice president at HR consulting firm Root Inc. It makes a stronger argument if you can frame it not in terms of the dollars you earn, but the dollars you bring in or save your employer. “The individual should be prepared to say to the managers, ‘This is the value I’m bringing to the business… Can we have a discussion about what’s fair compensation for that contribution?’”

If you’re underpaid, point it out. This sounds like a dead-end argument, but Honaman says it can be effective, provided you stick to the two points above: Present the facts professionally and politely, and rely on hard numbers to back up your claim.

Avoid this huge mistake. “If things are not going your way or if you feel that your employer is wronging you, don’t get emotional,” a blog post on advises. “Collect yourself and don’t let your boss see that you’re upset.” If you let feelings trump logic, you can go overboard in your reaction, which is just going to hurt your cause later when you need to prove your professionalism. Exit the conversation gracefully, then regroup (and vent, if need be) once you’re well out of earshot.

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