I can carry on a social conversation, and most people, I think, find me fairly interesting to talk to, but should the conversation turn adversarial I would prefer to literally turn tail and run.
I do not think well on my feet and afterwards I always rehash what I woulda/coulda/shoulda said, but didn't. The written word is my preferred medium, for here I can draft and revise and polish and try to get my nuance of intent exactly right.
That said, over at Boing Boing (which if you do not read at least a couple times a week, you are deprived), I found a link to a great article by John Scalzi that vindicates my desires in conversation: "Speech, Conversation, Debate, Engagement, Communication." It's 10 points to consider; here are the first couple to tantalize you:
1. As a general concept, freedom of speech includes the right to decide how and when to speak, and to whom.
2. This freedom of speech also includes the right to choose not to speak, and not to speak to whomever, including to you.
Better go read the rest.
Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning? I've blogged about this phenomenon before, but out in the backcountry I have had the most intense and marvelous conversations with perfect strangers. Most often this occurs during a race when I fall in with someone else running at the same pace. Or, rarely, during a training run when I encounter another person running on the same trail.
Somehow the natural boundaries of ordinary conversation are breached; deep and meaningful subjects are discussed openly and almost without preamble. Here's what I wrote a year ago about a chance encounter on the hills above Honolulu, "Sharing Secrets With Strangers on the Trail."